Minds on Art, Finale

A huge painted floored me. My mother was not impressed. She preferred her classmates.

The huge, incongruous painting we sat down to examine on our final day of “Minds on Art” is like none I’ve ever seen.

It depicts a young African-American man dressed like countless others I’ve seen before: white T-shirt, blue jeans and what appear to be boots by Timberline. What’s different is that only one of his arms, the left, has found its way into his purple jacket; he has a curved saber in his right hand; and he is astride a wild-eyed white stallion that is reared up on its hind legs.

Including the beautifully elaborate frame, the painting, by Kehinde Wiley, is 10 feet by 10 feet. It is stunning, and when I ask my mother what she thinks of it, she says dryly, “Not a lot,” and walks away.

Momentarily disappointed, I remind myself that “Minds on Art” is about engaging people with dementia and their caregivers, not achieving consensus with people with dementia and their caregivers. Mission accomplished: My mother is engaged, just not feeling this particular painting, which is titled, “Officer of the Hussars.”

When our group convenes later to finish our individual art projects, she makes a little speech to everyone about how the program “was good fun and we met people we didn’t know before. It’s been wonderful.”

Another woman said she was pleased with “the opportunity to interact with people. It was a nice program.”

“This is better than sitting at home saying, ‘Oh, poor me,'” said another woman.

The praise was validation for the volunteers from the Alzheimer’s Association of Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), the two organizations that partnered to create “Minds on Art.”

Now in its third year, “Minds on Art” is an opportunity for those with dementia and their caregivers to replace their day-to-day stresses with a few hours of socializing and fun in one of America’s finest art museums.

One afternoon per week, DIA volunteers and staff lead dementia patients and their caregivers through a discussion of works of art on display at the DIA, followed by time for participants to create their own works of art. The program is free.

"Running Love," water color on paper.

“Running Love,” water color on paper.

My mother created two clay candle holders during “Minds on Art.” Both are on display in her living room.

Her final artistic endeavor is a water color painting she titled “Running Love,” which she wrote by hand on the bottom of the paper. But two weeks later, the words were covered up when we added a frame to the piece. So she rewrote the title on the frame. Later that day, at her home, she caught a misspelling. “‘Running’ has two n’s in it, doesn’t it?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered.

I’m glad that she caught the mistake, but if she hadn’t, it would have mattered not at all. Nothing was going to spoil our time at “Minds on Art.”


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James E. Kenyon

James is the publisher and editor of Page One Post. He was a newspaper reporter in Detroit and Norfolk, VA, before working in the corporate communications departments at a number of Michigan companies. His last stint was 18 years at Chrysler Corporation, where he handled media relations, product and marketing PR and speech writing. He retired from Chrysler in 2007. He enjoys listening to jazz, good cigars and bourbon Manhattans, often at the same time. He and his partner, Melba, live in Detroit's Rosedale Park neighborhood.