Never too late: Nursing home painters get first gallery show in Portland

Jeannine Davin, left, stops to give Kitty Carey, 70, some one-on-one attention during Marshwood's painting class on Wednesday. The class, which draws as many as 10 people per weekly session, will have its first showing at the Oak Street Lofts in Portland tonight.
Amber Waterman, Sun Journal
Jeannine Davin, left, stops to give Kitty Carey, 70, some one-on-one attention during Marshwood's painting class on Wednesday. The class, which draws as many as 10 people per weekly session, will have its first showing at the Oak Street Lofts in Portland tonight.
Posted June 07, 2013, at 6:18 a.m.

LEWISTON — Florence Lamare leaned within inches of the canvas and gently dabbed yellow paint on her checkerboard tablecloth. With red paint, she added a tall strawberry next to a glass jar of milk.

The 87-year-old remembers finger-painting as a child but never picked up a brush to really give painting a try until April. That’s when Jeannine “Gigi” Davin, a housekeeper at the Marshwood Center, became the center’s first paid artist-in-residence. She teaches weekly lessons on mixing colors, perspective and paying attention to where the light falls on the canvas.

One resident is legally blind. One has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS. Others have had strokes.

They’ve painted flowers, a lighthouse and a flag, and they’ve made an impression.

Residents have their first gallery show in Portland on Friday.

“I was like, ‘Really? In Portland?’” said Marshwood Administrator Sheryl Clark Nadell. “She’s just managed to pull off some wonderful things.”

Marshwood is for long-term care and rehabilitation patients. Recreation Director Angela Mastrella had plans for an artist-in-residence for a while but didn’t realize she had a painter in the building until Davin brought some of her works in this spring.

The first week, five people came to Painting 101. Now the hourlong classes on Wednesdays draw up to 10.

They pull wheelchairs up to long tables with easels. Davin hands out brushes, paper towels, cups of water and plates of paint. In the front of the room, she hangs one finished painting and one work in progress to paint along with residents.

“They want to do a good job, and they worry, ‘Is this OK?’” Davin said.

Davin, 55, of Sabattus, grew up on a dairy farm. She remembers painting and drawing whenever she had free time. It’s her first time in the role of teacher.

“I have to slow down and think and talk it out with them,” she said. “They try so hard.”

Davin also helps with small details, turning an errant paint stroke into a bird in one painting, adding curly green vines to a patch of flowers in another.

Mastrella said Davin hits the right balance of not making lessons too difficult or too childish.

“She’s very patient with them,” Mastrella said. “She just takes her time to remind them it doesn’t have to come out like (hers) to be good artwork.”

Michelle Michaud saw the residents’ paintings while visiting her grandmother at Marshwood and recommended the pieces go on display in the gallery space at Oak Street Lofts in Portland, where she lives.

The lofts were designed as an affordable housing complex for artists. It has hosted 30 artists in its gallery since January 2012, according to Mindy Woerter, communications manager for Avesta Housing, which owns and manages the lofts. Residents recommend, and curate, the shows.

The exhibit, called “Late Works,” will open to the public from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, part of the First Friday Art Walk. Six residents from Marshwood will head down to celebrate the opening.

Lamare was pleased about her work being in the show, even if she can’t make it. She’s been selling her paintings to family members for $10 each for a bit of spending money.

“I have seven children, so I need to paint some more,” Lamare said. “They all want one.”

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