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How Next Avenue Readers Are Aging Artfully

Take a look at their works and insights on being creative later in life

By Heidi Raschke

When we asked our readers to Show Next Avenue What You Do in the Arts and tell us about it, we were confident we’d get some good responses. But as with our six-word memoir challenge, you blew us away with insights, inspiration and, yes, interesting creative works that spoke to the importance of engaging in the arts as we age.

We heard from writers and musicians, ceramicists and painters. We heard from people on the East Coast and West Coast and points in between. We heard from those who found inspiration in the beauty of nature and those who found it in the bustle of cities. We heard from beginners, lifelong artists and those who had rediscovered a childhood passion in retirement.

“As a child I liked to draw and color, and after I was married I took adult ed painting classes at our local high school,” wrote Donna Farrell of Minoa, N.Y., who listed her age as 65+ and added: “Painting is fun, relaxing, challenging. I guess it just helps me enjoy life a little more!”

Susan Apel of Lebanon, N.H., shared her story of becoming a writer after 35 years as a lawyer and professor. She now blogs about the vibrant arts scene of the Upper Connecticut River Valley and writes creative nonfiction. “It's a new experience,” she says. “After a successful career in law practice and teaching, I wanted to know that there are still ‘firsts’ in this stage of life."

At 64, Rory Loew of Los Angeles, told us, “I'm learning to play the ukulele and oil painting.” But he has his limits: “I dance only when I am alone and sing in the car only when I'm alone.”

Another musician, Joe Dubinski of Glendale, Ohio, likes being able to focus more on his artful side now that he is 63. “Although I enjoyed my career in business, music was always my passion. Someone said that you work at your vocation so you can afford to pursue your avocation,” he wrote. “Now that I am retired from the business world, it’s time to pursue my avocation: music and entertaining.”


Afi Scruggs of South Euclid, Ohio, grew up playing gospel piano but always wanted to learn bass. In 2009, she finally did. “Playing bass is the fulfillment of a dream. And it's also made me appreciate my age and maturity,” wrote the 61-year-old who now plays regularly for her church. “I know my age, gender, and race make me a role model. I can't tell you how many women have approached me saying, "I've always wanted to (fill in the blank). I answer with a question: ‘What's stopping you?’”

Check out the slide show below for more works and wisdom from Next Avenue readers who aren’t letting age — or anything else — stop them from pursuing their passion. And please tell us — and show us — how you are aging artfully by submitting your original art and telling us about it here


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Double Rainbow, photograph by Kevin Gerien, 66, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

About the piece: "I have turned my attention to the New York City skyline and life in Brooklyn. We live in a very diverse society. Rich and poor, young and old, black and white all together under a huge beautiful sky."

Words of wisdom: "I have a million projects going at the same time. This gives me inspiration to keep going, get up and out, be with people and develop friendships with people of all ages."

Ornamental Cabbage, watercolor by Roberta Loflin, 66, of Baton Rouge, La.

About the piece: "This was a class demo that I did for a group of retired nuns for whom I teach watercolor. I am always showing them different techniques and ways of experimenting with color and shapes. I work from photos that I have taken of scenes and objects that grab my eye and challenge me."

Words of wisdom: "I started learning watercolor in my 40s and after moving to L.A., I was asked to teach — much to my surprise! I love sharing what I know and am always looking for challenges from my students and the world around me."

Deep Reflections, painting by Gary Manzo, 66, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

About the piece: "Large acrylic painting, permanently housed in the Civic Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. It's all about a positive understanding, through reflection."

Words of wisdom: "I recently retired and sold my financial services business, and I'm now a full time artist. Art keeps me from getting negative. Nothing is of such joy as seeing or creating an image that requires no other words but 'Wow!'"

The Knitter, watercolor by Tony Scutari, 66, of Linden, N.J.

About the piece: "I took up watercolor six years ago and love it! I am challenging myself by doing realism which is quite difficult using this media. I am doing watercolor renditions of famous oils done by the great masters of the past."

Words of wisdom: "As I create each artwork I also learn about the artists and what inspired them."

Spirit of the Horno Ovens, painting in oil on canvas by Marilu Norden, 90, of Phoenix, Ariz.

About the piece: "I find the pueblos, landscapes, spirituality and mysticism of the Southwest Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona to be an endless source of inspiration and fascination. As a mature yet constantly evolving artist, I strive to create imagery which evokes the soul of the Southwest, hopefully intriguing and enchanting that of the viewer as well."

Words of wisdom: "At age four, in Columbus, Ohio, I attempted to render my first 'mural' with crayons on the floral wallpapered wall of my room, drawing a red schoolhouse against a blue sky, complete with kids in the school playground, an artistic endeavor not particularly appreciated by my parents at the time! I feel blessed to always have had a positive approach to life, and all that it offers, including the God-given ability to express myself through art!"

Deep Reflections, monoprint by Susan Gantz, 70, of Oakton, Va.

About the piece: "The print was made with eucalyptus leaves purchased at a store --since I don't live in Australia or California where the trees are everywhere. It was made using acrylic paint with a bit of outlying with a permanent pen."

Words of wisdom: "As a nurse, precision and accuracy are important. In my creative life, I want to explore happy accidents.
I enjoying teaching others to find the joy in expressing themselves with simple materials and a willingness to suspend negative thinking like 'I can't.'"

Christmas on State Street, photograph by Barbara Newson, 62, of Glen Ellyn, Ill.

About the piece: "My birthplace is Chicago. I've watched it through the 60 years evolve into what stands today. I have places and objects from my childhood that I highlight in my photography. This is the Marshall Field Clock during Christmas. My hope is to inspire the viewer to reminisce about their own experience with any topic I photograph. Passing this on to their grandchildren enables them to view and explain the story behind a photo."

Words of wisdom: "It's good to look back and good to see the present. Knowing how we got to the point we are and how things have changed keeps us grounded. Some things just should not be forgotten. I try to find architecture that stimulates the memory and informs knowledge to the viewer about the subject matter. We can all learn something new. Never too old to learn."

Annunciation, gilded painting by Karen Fitzgerald, 60, of Woodside, N.Y.

About the piece: "
This painting uses a title often associated with the Christian religion. Yet there are many things common to everyday life that announce to us their energy, their life; they connect to us and connect us to the wider world."

Words of wisdom: "While I am aware that my body is subtly changing, I don't identify as an old person. I can still do everything I did 20 years ago."

Still Standing, watercolor by Sharon Watts, 62, of Beacon, N.Y.

About the piece: "The fruit from my kitchen is often the unlikely subject matter, for I have never liked doing still life. I wanted to capture things that moved. But I’m changing. Slowing down. I can’t help but notice the nicks and mars on a pear. I am paying attention. There is such beauty in imperfection. I pick up a brush and begin a meditation on impermanence, and my universe expands."

Words of wisdom: "I find as I grow older, I need to stop skimming the surface, to wade far past the shoreline of safety, to find and test my personal depths. Turning to something unknown and yet strangely comfortable—watercolor, with its unpredictability—challenges me. I am no longer in total control."

Tiger Vase, ceramic vase by Maxine Madruga, 68, of San Diego, Calif.

About the piece: "Handbuilt of stoneware clay and high fire glazes. No molds used. Created in a class for seniors (Emeritis) at Mesa College. These are no cost classes for 55+."

Words of wisdom: "My mother encouraged me to play music and do all types of art as I was growing up. As an adult, through Jr. College classes. I am a performing musician (sax and flute). Playing with American Flyboys, a San Diego Big Band. Ceramics is the best form of relaxation, and so much fun that time is not important. I am compelled to create. Who cares what age you are?"

Morning Glory Spiral, photograph by Candy Leonard, 59, of Cambridge, Mass.

About the piece: "
Flowers are beautiful and fascinating at every stage of growth, and I like the challenge of successfully communicating that beauty and sharing that fascination. Macro photography of flowers transforms them into abstractions, which reveal aspects of their beauty not usually seen. A friend gave me a camera about 10 years ago and I started taking pictures of flowers. They are everywhere, and endlessly fascinating."

Words of wisdom: "Photographing flowers helps me to be mindful; to take time and notice all the beauty that surrounds us. It gets me outside, keeps me calm and maintains my sense of wonder."

The Mime, painting by Bobby Wilson, 61, of La Follette, Tenn.

Watching and Waiting, watercolor by Glenn Davis, 64, of Medford, Mass.

About the piece: "This portrait of a jaguar is part of a watercolor series on endangered animals."

Words of wisdom: "There is nothing like creating something that did not exist before and then sharing it with people. The work can help to lead to a connection with someone."

Smoky Mountain Sunrise, photograph by Melanie Byers, 60, of Frankfort, Ind.

About the piece: "I'm partial to photographing nature, animals and children. When shooting children I prefer candid shots to catch their unguarded expressions and emotions. They are much more interesting photos."

Words of wisdom: "For me, taking beautiful photos not only gives me a sense of pride, more importantly it is a time I take just for me. Taking a stroll through the woods with my camera is a great way to recharge my batteries. Enjoying art is not just for the young and neither is creating it. Art is ageless."

Untitled, mixed-media drawing by Brij Singh, 68, of Chattanooga, Tenn.

About the piece: " I am enjoying drawing and painting using various media."

Words of wisdom: "I retired two years ago after 44 years of active work. I was restless as to how I would like to age myself. My wife was restless because she did not want me to stay home. My daughter suggested art. I liked my daughter's idea though I had never done art in terms of drawing and painting. I had done carpentry. I feel young as I meet lots of younger artists( 20s to 90s). They really share their talents and help when I get discouraged."

Untitled, dichroic glass pendants by Paula Prager, 71, of Long Beach, Calif.

About the piece: "I design and make one of a kind dichroic glass pendants. I started to get serious about this new endeavor about 6 months ago when people asked to purchase some. I now have an inventory of 140 pieces and am having a trunk show."

Words of wisdom: " I have been painting since I was 15 years old. I was introduced to glass making several months ago as just a passing fancy, but it has developed into so much more. This new pursuit has opened my creative right brain expansively. "

OCHIBA — Fallen Leaves, mixed media painting by Marian Yap, 76, of Pacifica, Calif.

About the piece: "Using vintage thread from the days when my father worked as a milliner in New York City during the 1940s, and stitching through the canvas over collaged paper, I have created a series of paintings that express my haiku ideals of awareness of the moment and of simplicity. I painted OCHIBA — Fallen Leaves to represent the Autumn season.

Words of wisdom: "For me, painting is a way to express myself and that gives me focus in my life. I am always thinking about the next painting and strive to expand my technique. It also provides a social network where I can exchange ideas with other artists."

Brubeck's Dream, mosaic by Susan Rosano, 61, of Guilford, Vt.

About the piece: "This is a mosaic work using hand-cut ceramic and stained glass tiles with stones, beads, brass wires and found objects in the composition."

Words of wisdom: "Pursuing my art helps me age artfully because it's inspiring, healthy and exciting. It gives me something to look forward to, be involved with and get out there socially. I love teaching mosaics to others, I love talking with people at a craft show about my art and I am always looking forward to working with that next group of people as a teaching artist. I have created a monthly drawing group in my home for friends who want to learn the art of drawing and have fun while doing it, with no pressure to do it 'right.' At this age, doing things 'right' doesn't mean much any more. It is all about fun, being creative and enjoying the process rather than the product."

Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy. Read More
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