Art in Rehab: Summer Chickens

I work several times a week in rehab and long-term care communities. The job requires patience, clarity, and enthusiasm. You need to meet folks where they are. Most are elderly. They have lived through more than I have, and have memories I can barely imagine, such as skating on Fresh Pond, now fenced in, or riding the long-demolished trolley from a suburb into Harvard Square.

They also come with any amount of artistic experience, from none to near professional. So any assignment must be adaptable to all levels, and still offer the chance to feel accomplished at the end of an hour. Often this means I sketch the basics for them, so they spend the hour painting. Initially this felt wrong -shouldn’t all the work be original? A conversation with a talented friend who works with children reassured me. “They call this scaffolding,” she told me. “You give them a structure they can build on, while you release that initial fear of failure.”

So this month: chickens. Thank you, Pinterest, for the original painting - I regret not noting the artist’s name. But the clarity and humor always made me laugh. Turns out it works for others too. I painted my sample chickens pink, purple, and green. “They are not ‘real’ but still we recognize them,” I pointed out. “Make these your chickens. Any colors you want.” Everyone reached. One person even painted piglets from her memories of the family farm. Enjoy.