Fighting Alzheimer’s, one piece of artwork at a time
Fall Fest Arts Festival presents the Alzheimer’s Art Garden, where artists will donate the proceeds of donated works to Alzheimer’s research
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by CCM Events
When Judith Otte lost her ability to create the paintings, sculptures, drawings and crafts that had shaped her career as an artist, her daughter saw the true ugliness of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Art had practically defined Otte’s family life, allowing her to use her talents to provide for her two small children after her husband passed away. Leslie Schafer, Otte’s daughter, now wants to use her mother’s artwork to raise awareness and funding for Alzheimer’s.
Schafer contacted Darren Skanson, the producer of Fall Fest Art Festival — presented by The Lake Dillon Art Festival — to rejoin the festival after taking many years off. He didn’t know what had kept Schafer, also an artist, away for long, but turns out it was because she spent a lot of her time caring for her mother.
With Otte now in full-time care, Schafer wanted to donate a piece of her mom’s work for auction and donate the proceeds to Alzheimer’s research.
Having just lost his father suddenly last October, and with a personal story about a former mentor’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Skanson was moved by the story.
So he put some information about the silent auction on the website and soon another artist contacted him with a personal story about Alzheimer’s. He wanted to donate a piece for the cause, too.
That artist, Chuck Adams, described his wife’s challenges with dementia and how much he has learned about the disease since her diagnosis.
“This disease has many faces and it seems no two patients are exactly the same. In the first support group I attended, I learned more than what I was able to garner from all my reading and research online,” Adams wrote in his description about how the disease has affected him. “We fortunately discussed early after her diagnosis that instead of concentrating on the tragic side of this disease, we would try to see humor in what was to come. So, even through it all, we can find laughter together to help us through our challenges.”
When Skanson thought about Adams’ story combined with Schafer’s, he immediately thought, “oh my goodness — we have to reach more people.”
The Alzheimer’s Art Garden was born
Rather than auction off a couple of pieces, Skanson said there will now be many dozens. He’s calling it the Alzheimer’s Art Garden, and each artist who donated a piece will also provide a brief story for guests to read about how Alzheimer’s has affected their lives.
The artwork includes a variety of pieces such as a beautiful oil painting, a large format photography piece, jewelry, a bronze sculpture by Otte, ceramics and more.
“Every category of things you would find at an art festival will be in the tent, available for the silent auction,” Skanson said.
About 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, but Skanson said it’s the number of those affected by the disease that is truly staggering.
“It’s more than the person with the disease that suffers,” he said. “While people are affected when family members have cancer or other diseases, Alzheimer’s is unique in the amount of suffering it causes for so many.”
The professional artists who are donating their pieces have shared those personal stories to help raise awareness.
“I’m so humbled by this whole experience. Alzheimer’s is a disease that has taken many of our loved ones in the most cruel way,” Schafer said. “I can hardly express my gratitude for the other artists and Darren. I really hope the Garden helps folks to see that there are things we can all still do in the face of a disease that really leaves families feeling helpless.”
One painter described how she witnessed her grandmother become a shell of the person she used to be.
“Her body was present, but her spirit and her energy were stolen from her. Recently, I was just mourning the fact that I never got to know who she really was — the person my dad knew,” said painter Julie Leidel. “She suffered a very long time. It is my deepest wish that a cure can be found.”
The sculptor Randall May he felt he lost his grandmother seven or eight years before she actually passed away due to Alzheimer’s. Woodworker Larry Hughes was a licensed nursing home administrator in the 1980s and worked with hundreds of patients with all kinds of dementia.
Jeweler Linda Cook’s mother-in-law died at 100 years old, after living more than 20 years with Alzheimer’s.
“Over the years, I watched her decline as the disease took over her mind,” she wrote. “What a sad thing to witness.”
Fighting sadness with ‘good’
Turning that sadness into something positive is what the Alzheimer’s Art Garden is all about. Skanson said the fact that the idea grew organically is especially exciting.
Schafer said Skanson’s vision for the Alzheimer’s Art Garden is so much greater than what she could have imagined. She and Skanson are hopeful the garden will send a message of encouragement that there is hope in the research.
“The force multiplier of energy happening right now is just taking me away — it’s lifting me up. It’s amazing what people can accomplish,” Skanson said. “With any event, you want that general feeling of ‘good.’ This is just purely good — collective, good energy that is so exciting.”
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