When I moved to Alaska in 2011, I settled in the Chugiak area because my daughter lives here. I came to the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center because I was in search of a painting class.
I found one.
Miss Ellie Stacy was a volunteer who came to teach art in a room provided by the CERSC for the past 18 years. She said that there were some periods of time when nobody came, but then in some years the class was full. Miss Ellie said she sat and painted whether she had students or not. She said that she had painted with other painters at the senior center many years ago, but had then moved to Oregon for a time. When she had returned to Alaska that group of painters was no longer here. She encouraged interested people to come and got the painting class going again.
Father John Downing, a retired priest, came to paint and brought with him several painters from his community. With the renovation of the physical plant at the senior center, there was space in the new dining room to display the work of our painting group.
Ray Johnson, a resident and employee of the center, built beautiful shelves to hold the paintings. People who come to eat here have often expressed appreciation that the paintings are there for sale and for viewing.
Sometimes, when we tell people about our class and invite them to join us, they protest that they “can’t draw a straight line.” They often turn into amazingly good painters and sell their work right off the dining wall room wall.
There is a lot of camaraderie and caring among this group of people who have shared commonality and many differences. We have each endured grief, heartache, and great joy as well as the satisfaction in living the lives that we have lived. As a whole, the members of the group value the experiences and relationships with loved ones and strangers as we keep learning.
As our group worked hard and saw ourselves improving, we ventured into the “outside world” – parts of the community away from the senior center.
Dennis Johnson, the owner of Jitters, invited us to show our work for a month at the coffee shop gallery. We were invited to participate in the Fur Rondy art show at the Anchorage Senior Center. Some of us attended the Arts in the Park program sponsored by the State Division of Parks, which is a family oriented initiative to draw attention to the beauty and natural resources of our state. Other painters enter bazaars; others donate their paintings to various charitable causes and art auctions. Some of our painters actually teach classes themselves and are active in the new Rivers Edge Studio and Gallery in Chugiak. We are fortunate to occasionally have a visiting artist who teaches a class or series of classes and we have taken field trips to different artist’s studio in the area for several days or a weekend of painting.
About a year ago, Miss Ellie told us that she no longer felt that she could successfully help us because of her failing eyesight and hearing. We said that we could not get along without her but she reasoned that if she couldn’t see, it would be difficult for her to critique our paintings. Her balance is affected, she felt unsteady and insecure about walking. We miss her but we feel her spirit is with us in the art room. In a recent conversation, Miss Ellie mentioned that she is looking forward to her 91st birthday on Jan.13.
“I am the same age as the Queen of England, and so I have watched her over the years. It seems she is slowing down some, but her fashion sense has not changed at all,” Miss Ellie said.
We see that Miss Ellie has slowed down some, but her enthusiasm for creating has not waned. The members of the painting class at the senior center collectively wish to continue to honor her love of art and the creative process.
We have a lot of people to thank for helping us, the painters at CERSC. Thus, as we begin a new year, 2017, we do so with thanks and good wishes to all of you.
Editor’s Note: Carol Warren is a resident of the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center and is a contributing writer to the ECHO News. Warren studied journalism in her youth and is now putting those skills to use sharing stories from the senior center.