Sculpting: An Expression of My Experience with Alzheimer’s

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Carolyn Peters, California

Art has fascinated me since childhood, but it was only later in adulthood that art became important as a personal form of expression. I discovered I could sculpt about the same time we discovered my husband, Don, had Alzheimer’s. Sculpting then, for me, became both an escape from his illness and a connection to him. Art, always our strong common bond, became, even in his illness, a welcoming doorway for us both into a wider world of art. It became a way to experience some moments of joy even as we plummeted, tethered together, into the black vortex of his disease.

Don, born with a natural artistic skill, received an enviable education in studio art at Kansas City Art Institute, Paris, and Florence, Italy. My training, however, was almost nothing. Yet, even with his memory loss, he remembered enough to guide me. We took classes together, and after I had placed him in a nursing home, we continued visiting museums, galleries, and attending lectures. It is interesting to note that his natural artistic style was a tight realism, but he forgot that and produced whimsical sculpture, loose and spontaneous … in stone, a medium he had never used, but only admired.

During a Family Caregiver Alliance retreat the facilitator asked attendees which of us had a hobby. Of the approximately 30 present only three of us mentioned that we did. This facilitator knew the importance of our having something in our lives we could escape into, something to restore in us our sense of self, something in which we could find respite, nurturance. Sculpting became that for me. I choose stone, an unlikely and recalcitrant material. Stone, a material I could chip and grind away at creating something beautiful, something I could not do with my husband’s disease.

Now, 11 years after his passing, my latest piece of sculpture surprised me to be an expression of my experience with Alzheimer’s. I began working on the stone intuitively, as I always do, allowing my subconscious to coax the stone into some hidden artistic expression, unaware that this time I tapped into a dormant place I didn’t expect to reach, those residual feelings of falling into the black vortex of Alzheimer’s.

Unlike the darkness that engulfed me as my husband’s caregiver, my sculptural representation of that major life event is a sparkling white Greek marble sculpture, an unexpected, serendipitous symbolic gesture of another reality of that long life moment.

The sculpture is exhibited at the Diablo Fine Arts Gallery in Walnut Creek, www.diablofineart.com.