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Laguna Art Museum Stirs Creativity in a Mind with Alzheimer’s Disease

February 20, 2009|By Matt Vecere

Clyde is a former quality control engineer for Boeing. When he began attending Alzheimer’s Family Services Center, he regularly participated in art class, creating wonderful pencil sketches; once painting a beautiful seascape. As his dementia progressed, he stopped joining art class, becoming more and more isolated. Thanks to Laura and Louis M. Rohl, Clyde and many other participants at AFSC were treated to an outing including, lunch and a tour of the Laguna Art Museum exhibition of William Wendt. 

“William Wendt saw God in nature,” explained the concierge to the group. “He must, look at that there,” said Clyde, pointing to a hardly noticeable mountain made to appear far off in the distance. Not quite able to find the words to describe what he saw, Clyde was unfazed by the entanglements affecting the language area of the brain commonly attacked by dementia. Deeply drawn in-to Wendt’s famous piece, Where Nature’s God Hath Wrought, Clyde took his eyes from the painting only momentarily to let the concierge know he was listening to her explanation of Wendt’s dedication to the idea of nature as creation. Clyde was more engaged than he had been in a very long time. Given Clyde’s lifelong interests in art, nature and gardening, the moment was nothing short of serendipitous. 

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As the tour went on, Clyde mentioned several times that he used to paint and draw. When asked if he was feeling inspired to pick up the pencil or paintbrush again, he replied with an enthusiastic “you betcha!”

Meanwhile, a small group of women admired another of Wendt’s paintings, Wash Day, depicting a small, early 20th century cabin and barn in a plush Southern California valley. A laundry line is tied between two trees with several garments hung. “Oh, I remember doing that…” said Ester. The others nodded, as if confirming that they, too, recall their days of washing and hanging laundry. According to Cordula Dick-Muehlke, PhD, executive director at Alzheimer’s Family Services Center, “Amazingly, color, motion, and imagery stimulate memories of past experiences that many of us might assume are forever lost to Alzheimer’s.”

Not long after the excursion, Clyde was walking by an Activity Coordinator who was working on a puzzle at Alzheimer’s Family Services Center. As always, she encouraged him to help her. For the first time in many months, he agreed and sat down and helped. It is difficult to tell if his renewed willingness to participate is directly attributable to the art museum excursion, but something inside him was definitely drawn out that day. 

Generous patrons, like Laura and Louis M. Rohl, pictured, make these types of outings possible, as well as help fund the important work we do at the center. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for families challenged by Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia through services tailored to individual needs. For more information about AFSC, please call (714) 593-9630 or visit our Web site at www.AFSCenter.org.

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