Group Mural Inspires Collaboration and Creativity Among Birches Residents

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Written by Jenny Smiechowski, staff writer for The Birches

Birches Assisted Living residents had the opportunity to get collaborative and creative on Monday when artist Monica Basset helped them paint a group mural.

Bassett, who grew up in LaGrange, is a contemporary abstract artist and performance painter who has lived in Paris for the past 22 years. She’s traveled and made art all over the world, including Japan, South Korea and India, but this was her first art project at an assisted living community.

“Wherever I travel, I bring my canvases with me, and I just experience how it is to paint in the moment. I’m always thrilled to paint with other people and to share the joy,” said Bassett. “Since I was here for an extended period of time this summer, I thought it would be fun to experience what it would be like with a retirement community.”

Residents loosened up before they painted by doing something Bassett often does before she paints in her own studio—dancing. The Birches’ dance therapist Gail Ann Bradshaw stopped in for a short session of movement and music that helped everyone get in touch with their creative side.

“Usually, when I’m in my studio and I want to let go, I dance and then I paint,” said Bassett. “When I dance and then I paint, I’m a lot more intuitive. I’m not worried about doing something specific. I’m just interested in how the paintings flow. And whatever I’m feeling that day, I just put it on the canvas.”

According to Birches’ Activities Director Katie Klitchman, Bassett’s mural painting activity was one of the more popular events among residents this year, because, although most residents at The Birches don’t have much artistic experience, they enjoy art and want to do more of it.

“I’m not too good at art,” said Darcy Kelleher, a Birches resident who contributed to the mural. “But I want to be. I had a couple of aunts who were really good.”

Charlotte Lillquist is another Birches resident who’s always wanted to do more art, and during the mural project she had the opportunity to expand her artistic horizons by painting with a tool called a palate knife.

“It was nice. It’s like spreading frosting,” said Lillquist. “Now I want to go in and try the paint brush—try both experiences.”

Luckily, Bassett takes a very open and judgment-free approach to making art that kept residents of all experience levels from feeling intimidated by the blank canvas.

“In art, and especially today, there are no rules. We’re just going to have fun. And there are no mistakes,” said Bassett. “Really, once you get over the hump of feeling like you’re not creative, then you just love the idea of spreading color.”

The Birches’ Executive Director Jackie Sander says the four-paneled mural will eventually hang somewhere in the Birches.

“We haven’t decided where to hang it yet, possibly in our bistro or our activity room—somewhere where residents can enjoy it, feel good about their accomplishment and feel inspired to tap into their creativity more often.”