FAIRFIELD — You won’t find Van Gogh or Monet here. A Picasso or a Rembrandt? Probably not.

But you will discover a Clifford Parcell, a Charlotte Lake and so many others at the Iowa State Bank in Fairfield — home of an exhibit of artwork by senior residents from Fairfield’s Sunnybrook Assisted Living facility.

The exhibit, “Art from the Heart,” will remain on display at the bank through May 18. A silent auction is currently underway for the paintings with the money going toward the program that got Parcell, Lake and others from Sunnybrook to paint in the first place.

Betsy Huffsmith is the creator of the local program, which gives seniors a chance to express themselves creatively. And it’s a program rooted in Huffsmith’s love of art, love of teaching and her desire to give back to seniors.

A professional artist by trade, as well as a teacher, the impetus for Huffsmith’s program began four years ago.

As part of an adopt-a-grandparent program in Fairfield, Huffsmith met an elderly man at a local nursing home.

She visited him at least once a week for 15 months until his death. During that time, he would show her some of his drawings of rabbits, squirrels and birds — animals he would see when he was on the farm.

“Then a light bulb went off in my head,” she said.

Huffsmith brought along some paints and together the two started painting.

“He loved the idea ... the first time his eyes were just filled with tears,” she said. “ He said, ‘I love you Betsy.’ I was just bawling.”

That idea soon grew into a concept and then a program at Sunnybrook, where Huffsmith meets with residents, helping them paint.

“It’s uplifting, stimulating and engaging the elderly through art,” she said. “I connect with these people; it’s a bond, it’s a real heart thing.”

Residents work one-on-one with Huffsmith, painting specific images like landscapes and florals.

Huffsmith spends 30 minutes with each resident giving them her undivided attention, offering a lot of eye contact, even singing with them, anything to get them stimulated.

Huffsmith believes the program could be considered a form of therapy — the healing power of art.

“It’s another outlet for these people ...” she said.

And it isn’t just residents who are stimulated by the program.

“Oh my gosh, it totally heals me,” said Huffsmith. “It’s like a fix ... I’ve got to get my fix of Sunnybrook.”

While some of the artwork may never be considered a classic, that’s really not the point.

“It’s the process that’s important,” Huffsmith said.

“It gives them ownership ... they gain a sense of purpose, some self empowerment.”

Huffsmith said some clients who are suffering from the late stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia are often unable to communicate verbally.

The painting gives these seniors a way to communicate visually.

For Huffsmith, the art program is her “passion.

“It’s a fantastic project. They’re giving me a gift back,” she said.

Jeff Hutton is the Courier’s associate editor. He can be reached at (641) 683-5380 or via e-mail at jeff@ottumwacourier.com.


For your information

All money raised from the exhibit and silent auction will go toward continuing funding for Huffsmith’s painting program.

For more information about the program, call Huffsmith at (641) 472-3968.


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