Taking Art Home is an Art in Healthcare project, supported by Creative Scotland and run in partnership with Luminate, South Lanarkshire Council and Covid:Aid
When I first saw the advert for an artist for Taking Art Home I was very excited. It’s a project delivering art workshops to people living in residential care homes as well as online to people living with Long Covid. The idea is to bring creative workshops to people who wouldn’t be able to go to them otherwise.
As part of this project I ran art workshops in two care homes in South Lanarkshire: Dewar House and Mckillop Gardens, over the course of a year. They were inspired by Art in Healthcare’s collection of paintings, prints and textiles and delivered in three blocks.
Block One: Getting to Know You
I started by running group and one-to-one workshops, using different techniques such as printing, painting, clay sculpture, embroidery, and weaving.
Usually, I talked to a participant before we made anything, to help me get to know them and give us ideas about what we could make. I could also show them some artworks from our collection for inspiration. For example, while looking at a picture of a child with a horse one woman talked for over 40 minutes about her granddaughter who loves horses. I showed her a picture of a horse on my phone, and she drew it with charcoal. At the end of the project she said that what she had valued most were our conversations.
Block Two: A New Approach
Anne and Lottie from Luminate put me in touch with Lesley Wilson, a playwright from Perthshire. Lesley’s approach – inspired by the ‘timeslips’ methodology – is to encourage people living with dementia to use their imagination rather than memory. Lesley asks participants questions to help them write creative stories and poems, often inspired by a picture. She shared some of her questions which was really helpful, and I then tried to use a similar approach. By asking open questions about our Art in Healthcare artworks we wrote stories about eating tapas in Bilbao, poems about boats in a harbour and created characters to inhabit a pop art city.
Often the stories which we created had interesting connections to the participants’ lives. One man was really drawn to an artwork: Two Quaiths. Whereas he usually didn’t want to take part in the workshops, he started talking about fishing with his son and his uncles in Ireland, standing in rivers, and going out in a wee boat to sea. He spoke about how good fishing was because you are in the fresh air all day.
Block Three: Big Artworks
I drew on the interests of participants and staff to create large collaborative artworks in our last block of workshops. I wanted people to be able to add to the artworks individually or in groups, and we moved the artworks around the care homes through communal spaces and individual rooms to enable this.
Participants decided what the artworks would be about. At Dewar House there used to a be wishing tree at the front door so we took this as our starting point. Mckillop Gardens is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so the care home itself became the setting for our painting.
The large paintings were created on canvas. To make starting easier for participants I prepared a stencil of a tree outline, and of the outside of the building at Mckillop Gardens, respectively. This meant participants could easily use rollers to fill in large areas of colour with paint.
Each week we added to the paintings using materials and techniques such as oil pastels, collage and lino printing.
I encouraged participants to use their existing skills during the activities. At Dewar House, one participant was a retired painter and decorator who really liked to feel useful, so he helped wash out the paint pallets. When we started on the communal artwork he became very engaged, and was very comfortable showing others (including his family who were visiting) how to use a roller to paint in the stencil. While he was making and sticking wishing coins onto the tree he was directing what should happen which was unusual for him.
As the project progressed it was announced that Dewar House was at risk of closure. Staff in particular spoke of their hope that it would remain open when looking at the tree or adding to it. Those who wanted to ‘tied’ a ribbon onto the tree in the last session, making it a ‘real’ wishing tree for the staff and residents.
Being introduced to Lesley Wilson and combining visual art activities with open questions was a real turning point in this project. It led to more conversations, more creative ideas and seemed to encourage more people to take part. The large artworks were created visually – we painted, stuck and printed – but we also chatted, invented and told stories.