In a nondescript little building on Merry Street, about 22 artists seek refuge from the bustle of everyday life at least twice a week.
Inside the plain, yellow building, paintings of trickling brooks and serene mountainscapes fill the walls, while easels filled with works of art in varying stages of completion decorate the tabletops.
The Ageless Artists, as the group of senior citizens calls themselves, consider the building a blessing.
They’ve been using the old community center for about six years, and no one else uses it anymore.
“This is a nice space because the county allows us to use it, so we can leave our stuff here. When we were at Minnick Park, they used to rent it for all kinds of other things. When you came back, your stuff was all scattered or gone. So this is really nice,” said member Kamla Shah.
Art teacher Regina Trueblood started the group in 1989 from the remnants of a senior art group supported by the senior citizen’s council.
Trueblood, who holds a degree in art and a certificate in gerentology, started the class with about five students in a senior center on 15th Street. The group started growing, but really took off after the director of the recreation department at that time, Tom Beck, offered a larger place if the group had 25 or more members. Word of mouth brought more members.
“We had as many as 61 students on the list,” Trueblood said. She began teaching three to four classes a week, and the artists moved from Minnick Park to the Merry Street building.
As the economy forced cutbacks, the Area Agency on Aging that sponsored the program at that time was no longer able to pay Trueblood to continue classes.
The seniors banded together and began paying Trueblood out of their own pockets if she would continue to teach them once a week.
Every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the artists get together to learn about technique and proportions. She lets them explore a variety of media, from clay sculpting to screenprinting.
As people age, their small motor skills, memory and eyesight diminish. Many fight major health problems
such as cancer or the early stages of dementia, Trueblood said.
“But the ability to create is usually quite good until the 80s,” she said. “They can still create something new.”
A few of them get together again on Thursdays.
For some, it is a way to socialize and ease the loneliness of retirement.
For Becky Dozier, it is an escape from a multitude of to-do lists.
Dozier volunteers her time with various community projects, including genealogical research for others and working at the library.
“When I would come and sit down at my place, some how or another all of those things would just gradually go away and I would leave here just feeling so comfortable and at ease,” she said.
Kathy Rufo won’t paint anywhere else. At home, there are too many chores waiting to be done and too many other demands on her time and energy. Here, she can let it all go, relax and create.
“This is my time. This is our time. This is for me,” she said.