Older adults reveal creativity in Contra Costa JCC art show

Nearly three weeks after its opening reception, the "Discovering the Artist Within" art show at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center is still generating rave reviews.

But perhaps its greatest fans are the artists themselves.

"Inspirational" is just one of many ways to describe the exhibit, which shows the work of 32 creative residents of the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville. With many of the artists in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, the show undoubtedly proves that it is never too late to create eye-pleasing art.

Indeed, the Walnut Creek show is subtitled "An Exhibition of Art by our Elders."

For some of the participants, just the act of holding a paintbrush is enough to keep them inspired.

Some use art to express their innermost feelings. Yetta Leibowitz, whose vibrant painting hangs prominently in the hall of the community center, brings two lovebirds to life in her piece.

The picture, titled "Happily Married," shows two magnificently colored parrots. Below the work, visitors can read her thoughts as she writes, "My husband always worried that I would be lost, but I am not lost and I am not alone."

In the exhibit, visitors will find paintings, collages and other works. A photo of the artist, along with a short text, accompanies each piece. A video with interviews of the artists is also included in the exhibit, giving the Reutlinger residents a chance to describe their work and their experiences.

Three notebooks of photos and newspaper clippings give visitors an idea of the breadth of work. In addition, the books highlight some of the major accomplishments many of the artists have made in the past few years.

Not all are seasoned artists.

"There are a lot of people in the program who have had very little or no exposure at all to the world of art," said Betty Rothaus, art director at the Reutlinger home for older Jewish adults. "But when they're given the chance to create, they rely on their personal experiences, and then you can see some real masterpieces take shape."

Rothaus, who has been involved with the art program for 10 years, was one of several people who helped put together the JCC show. The gallery is a complete showcase of the artists, as a corridor lined with their artwork opens to an atrium.

For some of the artists, the creative process began with a return to their religion and culture. "Floating Alpha Beits," a painting by Sally Eiselman, is her first attempt at working with the Hebrew alphabet and watercolor. "I really enjoyed the learning experience," she writes below her work.

Another piece, Lucille Cooper's "Garden of Eden," speaks to the natural simplicity of life. The textural work, focused around a tree and sun, combines cotton, wool and wood on a felt background. "There is no ordained path," writes Cooper. "It's like the wind and has its own force."

The Reutlinger exhibit will run through Friday, Oct. 13. But the artistic process will go on for those Reutlinger residents who so choose. Rothaus considers the art program — and exhibit — a resounding success.

"You can look at these works and see the life of the artist reflected in each one," said Rothaus. "The inspiration for these people stretches far beyond age or culture. It is a result of a lifelong process of learning, constantly being open to new things, and always allowing creativity to flourish."

Debbie Michelle, a program director at the Contra Costa JCC, said: "We have received an absolutely wonderful response from everyone who comes in to see the work. I think a lot of people are finding the art to be really inspirational."