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They Are Golden Years

In weekly art class, seniors find other colors are still big part of their lives


Louise Guy cocks her head as she examines her painting.

"Everyone says the green is too bold, but I like it," she says.

The watercolor work, of an exotic Hawaiian orchid, is a commission, so she's anxious to make sure it's just right.

Guy touches up the leaf during her regular Thursday morning painting class at Edgehill Lifecare Community in Stamford, Conn.

The class, taught for two years by Harriet Lacker, has become wildly successful. At the students' art show last year, which was strictly for display, their works were so popular that people begged to buy them. "At first, we said they weren't for sale," says Tina Marshall, activities director at Edgehill, "but then we thought, 'why not?' "

After the show, the students' success picked up momentum. Guy, an alumna of Kappa Kappa Gamma, designed a greeting card that the sorority will sell to raise money. Resident Grace Zoephel painted a floral work that Edgehill turned into a set of 12 boxed note cards to benefit a hospital.

A businesswoman with no formal art training, Guy started taking classes with Lacker two years ago.

"I'm the kind of person who likes to learn," she says. "We started with calligraphy and I said, 'What else have you got?' Now we do watercolors and collage."

Lacker has been impressed with her students' progress.

"Everyone has come a long way," she says of the students, who number about a dozen. "They're not so tentative; they're bold and trying new things."

Another member of the class, Gaetana Ricci, says: "I was away for a couple of weeks and then I came back and I thought, 'Wow, we've improved.' "

Lacker flits from one to another. "Ingrid! I'm glad you didn't give up on those poppies," she says to Ingrid Sladkus, who replies: "It's a commission. That's why I'm so uptight."

The lessons keep the residents stimulated, says Lacker, who was an art teacher in the Stamford elementary schools for many years and also teaches art to seniors with limitations. Often, she'll bring in her own painting to demonstrate a particular technique.

Of Guy, Lacker says: "You know what I call her? Fearless. She's totally ready to try anything."

"I find it very rewarding to be 93 years old and have something to look forward to every Thursday," Guy says.

"People get excited about what they're doing," Lacker says. "They'll work in between [the Thursday classes]," she says. "They put [their work] in their apartment, and every time they walk by they're self-critiquing."

Guy's apartment is filled with her colorful artwork--bright florals and witty collages. Her daughter, an artist, brings her color photocopies of interesting images from catalogs, magazines and art books. Guy laboriously cuts them and creates collages. In a collage of yellow and red poppies, "You see shoes and gloves and umbrellas and all sorts of things. That's what makes it fun."

Lacker's students have also done painting on glass and other crafts, and they painted the mural on the art room wall at Edgehill. Besides the Thursday morning class, Lacker sometimes teaches again in the afternoon.

"I teach to the individual painting," says Lacker, who says the women start with photographs or just an idea in their imagination. "I tell them, 'Don't give up on it, you'll work it through.' "

Besides the painting, Guy's latest interest is card making. Throughout the year, she maintained a pen pal relationship with a 5-year-old schoolgirl. Recently, she presented the girl with a pop-up card.

Marshall, who is Guy's daughter, says, "I call her our own Grandma Moses."

"The main thing when you're my age is, you have to stay busy or you start to feel sorry for yourself," says Guy before heading off to her afternoon art class.

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