Charitable Giving: Newbie artists find latent talents at Jewish Home

Rudy Hooremans, 88, never cared much for art as a young man. Born in Holland in 1924, he survived World War II with the help of a compassionate Christian family who hid him. After the war, he moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and trained in industrial and commercial architecture. The attention to detail and precision of the work appealed to him, he says.

Now, those professional skills announce themselves in Hooremans’ intricate paintings, a half-dozen of which hang, framed, on the walls of the art room at the Jewish Home of San Francisco.

Rudy Hooremans began painting in his 80s. photo/emma silvers

“I never painted a day in my life before I set foot in here,” Hooremans says, gesturing at the scene around him. In the smaller of two rooms designated as the home’s “open studio,” one table is covered with colorful ceramics made by residents; paintings hang on the walls and rest on easels. In an adjacent workshop, long tables are topped with paint supplies, felt-tip markers and colored pencils; some Day of the Dead-style masks recently made by residents are sitting out to dry.

Hooremans is one of 40 to 50 Jewish Home residents who drop into the art studio whenever they have free time, creating paintings, sculptures and mixed-media work.

The creative arts program is supported by several philanthropic funds — including the Maimonides Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund, and the families of Eugene Friend, Julian Davis, George Saxe, Ron Wornick, and Carl Rothblum.

In addition, a different work of resident art appears each week in the pages of j., a project that has been underwritten by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for the past 25 years. Though the fund is wrapping up operations by the end of the year, the Goldman tradition of supporting the arts program will carry forward through the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund.

Doug Goldman says he and his wife are committed to continuing his late parents’ commitment to the creative arts program. The fund made two separate grants to the home this year, totaling $7,500.

“I think they saw it as an interesting and rewarding way to support the community,” says Goldman of his parents. “Not only by helping a major institution, but by giving people an opportunity to express themselves in a beautiful and creative way. I think it gave them a lot of joy, just as it must bring a lot of joy to people who look forward to seeing what the current week’s piece will be [in j.]”

Edie Sadewitz, 92, likes to paint outdoor scenes. photos/emma silvers

Hooremans has lived at the Jewish Home for seven years, but didn’t start painting until a few years ago, he says. He first got involved when he wanted to make a “congratulations” card for his granddaughter for her college graduation, and asked creative arts director Gary Tanner for some pens and paper. Soon, Tanner convinced him to give painting a try, “just for fun.” These days, Hooremans’ portraits, in particular, are popular — one of his nurses recently commissioned him to do paintings from her kids’ school photos.

But the staff and residents aren’t the only ones who can enjoy the artwork created at the studio. The art is used in all of the home’s invitations, thank-you cards, posters and other correspondence, including promotional materials; there are art sales at the facility and elsewhere a few times a year.

Residents Gloria Houtenbrink and Edie Sadewitz are two others who give Tanner full credit for their newfound love of art. Houtenbrink, 91, says her husband was an artist, and their daughter followed in his footsteps. But Houtenbrink worked in an office for most of her life, and didn’t take up art until after moving to the home some 12 years ago.

These days, she crafts inspired bowls, vases and other pottery, about which her friend Sadewitz says: “She’s modest and won’t tell you this, but they sell like hotcakes when the Jewish Home has its booth at Israel in the Gardens.”

Sadewitz, 92, will mark her 10th year at the Jewish Home on April 1. An avid golfer, she likes to paint outdoor scenes, and her golf-inspired paintings have graced the posters and other materials for the home’s annual golf tournament dinner and auction for the past two years.

Gloria Houtenbrink favors pottery.

“I honestly had never picked up a paintbrush,” says Sadewitz, who also serves as president for the residents’ council. “But Gary kept persuading me, gently, to try it.” (She also sings in the facility’s choir: “I can’t sing worth a darn, but I came here and now I’m singing anyway … That’s the thing about getting older. You act real silly and you just don’t care.”)

Out in the studio, Tanner, a soft-spoken man who has been running the creative arts program for 18 years, is getting out some acrylic paints for resident Astrid Stange.

“This program’s been a lifesaver for her,” says Stange’s daughter, Cynthia, who is visiting. “It’s been tough for her since my father passed away, but I know this is something she looks forward to. And Gary’s so great with all of them.”

Tanner, who has a bachelor’s in drawing and painting, waves off the praise. In addition to supervising the art studio, he also coordinates regular outings to local museums and the theater, and puts on an annual summer arts festival (sponsored by the George and Dorothy Saxe Family Fund) — entirely by himself.  “I’m just glad that we can offer something like this,” he says.

Astrid Stange paints with Gary Tanner.

For all the program’s benefits, Tanner agrees that among the most evident are helping residents to see themselves in a new light — and helping them cultivate and affirm a new creative outlet at a time in life when conventional wisdom suggests there are no new tricks to be learned.

The atmosphere in the art studio suggests conventional wisdom, in this case, is bunk.

“I never would have called myself an artist before,” says Sadewitz, studying her framed work on the studio wall. “But a few months ago, I had just finished a painting, and someone looked at it and said ‘If you painted that, you’re an artist.’ That made me want to start another one. It felt good.”

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.