From shifting thought to solid canvas | April 17, 2009 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

- April 17, 2009

From shifting thought to solid canvas

'Memory in the Making' class at Avenidas Center lets Alzheimer's patients communicate through art

by Casey Weiss

Long before his fellow art students arrived, Art Pollard covered canvas after canvas with pictures of robins and hummingbirds.

The Sunnyvale resident, an Alzheimer's patient who participates in daytime programs at the Avenidas Senior Day Health Center, said robins are his favorite bird. But he also enjoys drawing the hummingbirds, which he remembers seeing frequently as a child.

Once a week Pollard, a 70-year-old military veteran, spends his afternoons painting with up to seven other patients as part of "Memory in the Making," an art program run by the Alzheimer's Association. The Avenidas Center, located on Escuela Avenue next to the Mountain View Senior Center, holds medical and social programs for senior citizens throughout the day. But the art programs are specifically for participants with Alzheimer's and dementia, and allow them to communicate through their artwork.

"The participants use painting to express things they can't say," said Lenny Park, director of the Avenidas Senior Day Health Center.

"They don't have to be an artist," he said. "Some people have never painted. They just sit down and do it. It's really special."

The Alzheimer's Association runs 30 similar programs throughout the Peninsula, and volunteers lead participants in painting classes. Some of the students in other Bay Area classes have lost more of their communication skills, and the classes allow them to express themselves, according to Association spokesperson Patty Guinto.

Earlier this month, the Association auctioned off these pictures at a function held at the Computer History Museum, raising an impressive sum — $93,000 — for the classes and other programs.

The students in the Mountain View class are mostly higher functioning, said teacher Erin Morgan, who is pursuing a master's degree at Notre Dame University in Belmont.

"For these students it's more about the sensory experience," Morgan said.

As Pollard applies blue and brown paint to his canvas, he speaks of the robin he saw that very morning. Most of the students in the Mountain View class are able to explain the thought behind the art.

Inez Murillo, another student in the class, finished up drawing a doll last Wednesday after months of working on the same piece. Across the room, Felipe Garcia used a magnifying class to sketch different shapes.

"He likes to have themes and boundaries," Morgan said of Garcia.

But for all of the students, she said, the art class gives them a rare opportunity to just paint. In their paintings, the artists are able to hold fast that most fleeting of things: memories.

E-mail Casey Weiss at


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