Art brings out creativity, lifts spirits at Reutlinger

Beatrice Meyer’s “Dutch Landscape” is awash in vibrant reds, greens and blues; earth and sky touch in soft strokes that belie the inspiration she gets from impressionist masters.

Meyer, 80, a retired journalist and former editor of the Vermont Journal — whom everyone calls “Bea” — has been painting for four years now, thanks to the Art With Elders program at Danville’s Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living.

A stroke survivor, Meyer says it was Reutlinger’s art director, Betty Rothaus, who encouraged her to work with oil paints. “I feel very good when I’m painting,” Meyer says from her room, her sentences short yet spirited.

Meyer — along with eight other residents from Reutlinger — was chosen for the 13th Art with Elders (AWE) annual exhibit that opened with a festive reception Sept. 12 at Rincon Center in San Francisco. Meyer’s son was one of hundreds of family members and caregivers who came to honor the 90 artists that afternoon.

“We gathered together to celebrate and honor these elders who continue to show us in the deepest sense, what choosing life really means,” says Rothaus. “Despite physical and cognitive ills, these seniors — some over 100 years of age — refuse to allow anything to overshadow their vibrant, creative and generous spirits.”

In fact, Meyer’s paintings have been chosen for Art With Elders exhibits three years in a row. The program runs out of the S.F.-based Eldergivers, which began in 1985 as an outreach effort of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Cow Hollow, is devoted to developing the hidden gifts of elders and sharing them with the wider community. The Reutlinger Community is one of 30 senior residences involved in Art With Elders.

Robin Myers, program director of Art With Elders, says the annual reception is very rewarding because it gives older artists the chance “to leave the nursing home and enjoy an afternoon of refreshments.”

Many, like Meyer, have physical handicaps because of strokes, arthritis or other illnesses. Some work in acrylic or watercolor; others use ink and pencil drawings, while the daring go with mixed media. Each piece of art is framed with a black-and-white photograph of the artist and a brief biographical sketch.

“For many of the artists, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen their work framed,” says Myers, who directs 12 art teachers in Bay Area residences. “Some of them actually burst into tears.”

Moreover, Myers says that she’s always impressed by the history of each artist. “We have housewives and veterans, and people who escaped the Nazi regime only to be imprisoned by the Austrian regime, and then to escape to the U.S.”

Carol Goldman, director of programs at Reutlinger, says Art With Elders encourages creativity. “It’s not like a crafts class in which everyone is doing the same thing. Each resident is encouraged to find and develop his or her own method of creating.”

At Reutlinger, a sign on the art room door reads, “Please enter silently.” Soft music is playing, and art supplies are everywhere. “You see people constantly walking through and admiring,” says Goldman. “There’s a sense of dignity in the room.

“There are many times that our residents have aches and pains, but as soon as they get into the art room, it diverts their attention. One woman is fairly depressed, but you’d never know it in the art room.

“They look and feel different in the art room.”

Artwork decorates the walls of Reutlinger, catching the attention of its staff. Recently, two employees who work in the kitchen asked if they could paint with the older residents. After work, they now relax and create alongside the residents, who range from age 80 and up. (The oldest resident in Art With Elders is 98.)

Echoing Rothaus’ sentiments about the annual exhibit, Goldman says the event is “a real engaging experience. … We had residents go who had not been out in a long time.”

The residents, she says, are proud “to see their works on the wall. That’s history in the making for generations after they’re gone.”

Beatrice Meyer’s Dutch landscape and other works of art can be viewed at the 13th annual Art With Elders exhibit through Nov. 6, 201 Spear St., S.F. The artwork is up in the two lobbies of the building during regular business hours. The art is also at gallery.html