Sharing memories through art at The Farmstead

Verona Engebretson sketches an outline in clay of her memory tile. It is shaped like Texas because she lived there for 14 years when her husband was in the Navy and she owned a hotel. Submitted photo

Before moving to the much colder state of Minnesota, Verona Engebretson lived in Texas for 14 years with her husband when he was in the Navy and she owned a hotel.

The memories came flooding back to her as she molded a piece of clay into the shape of Texas and crafted it to include the shape of a boat along and other nautical symbols. A bone signified their dog Samantha.

When Engebretson mentioned she lived in Texas, the woman sitting next to her — Sylvia Richardson — exclaimed that she and her husband lived in El Paso, Texas when he was in the Army.

“Minnesotans in the desert!” Richardson said laughing.

For a couple of weeks, several residents in The Farmstead Presbyterian Homes, an Andover-based senior living facility, worked with professional artist Anne Krocak to mold pieces of clay into tiles that will get a coat of glaze to protect them for the long-haul. Krocak said they could hang their artwork on the wall or even eat off it if they wanted.

This camp, dubbed Memory Tile Making, was the second in three artist camps taking place at The Farmstead over a year period thanks to a grant awarded by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and a partnership with Community Programs in the Arts.

The first camp this past summer gave residents the chance to compose their own songs. The third and final camp next spring will be to create a graphic memoir page.

Cassie Peterson, recreation director at The Farmstead, has learned how art can stimulate memories of senior citizens through her pursuit of a masters degree in gerontology, which is the study of the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging.

“I’m excited to have this opportunity. I don’t think all residents realize how big of an opportunity this is,” said Peterson, who admitted she was disappointed that only seven residents participated in this second camp.

Residents took part in a Nov. 20 morning session with Krocak, who first wanted the residents to open up and not be intimidated by creating this tile artwork. This brainstorming stage is the most challenging, so Krocak said she asked the senior citizens to talk about their favorite food or colors before she started asking more about family, pets and places they lived. One story leads to another.

A few residents said they enjoyed crafts, but Joanne Scott’s comment that “I’m not an artist” was a common thought.

“I was just looking for something to do,” Deloris Wiersma said.

The purpose of all camps is for residents to remember and share the stories most important in their life, according to Peterson.

“We’re very clear that this is not a drawing class,” Krocak said. “The purpose is to share the stories.”

The seven people who came back in the afternoon session smiled brightly and laughed as they heard the stories. Some of these residents barely know each other because they came from both the assisted and independent living wings of The Farmstead that do not always interact with each other, according to Peterson.

One resident made a cornucopia shape on the edge of her tile artwork, which is the symbol of abundance and nourishment and associated with Thanksgiving in western art. It was fitting because of the upcoming holiday, but also because this resident lived in Cornucopia, Wisconsin along Lake Superior. She included waves to illustrate this lake on her tile artwork.

Another resident made a checkered pattern because she loves to quilt and within the boxes put down other memories such as having a camper for camping trips. Pets and number of kids and grandkids were commonly included in the tile artwork.

Wiersma made a tile in the shape of Minnesota because she has lived in the state her whole life, but inclusion of a football was not for the Gophers or Vikings but for herself. The girls and boys in her neighborhood played football together. When the other residents applauded her work as they had done for the others, Wiersma became very excited to tell her family that others had clapped for her. She said she had a lot of fun coming up with memories for this artwork.

“I’m privileged. I have a lot to be thankful for,” she said.

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