When you first meet 77-year-old Elizabeth her quiet demeanour can lead you to believe she’s had a simple, straightforward domestic life.
But if you scratch below the surface you’ll discover a life of survival, adventure and romance.
Elizabeth stopped painting years ago, but has found confidence again through Arts on Prescription
She’ll tell you all about growing up in Hungary and fleeing to Austria during WWII when she was six years old, living in refugee camps for 10 years as a young girl, of meeting her husband in Holland and moving to Australia after visiting the country on their honeymoon.
Married with four children all early in life means by age 40 she was an empty-nester and looking for something to occupy her. It was at that time in her life she took up painting.
“I’ve painted for most of my life since then,” she tells me. A rich life proved great fodder for her art. She’s painted portraits, landscapes, still life—anything she could depict with oils.
But as time wore on and Elizabeth felt like she was less and less capable.
“I used to paint beautifully, but not anymore. I haven’t painted for 12 years now,” she says, defeated.
Recently, Elizabeth found herself in hospital with a fractured hip. The social worker on the ward suggested she might be a good candidate for Arts on Prescription.
A project led by HammondCare in conjunction with the University of NSW, Arts on Prescription is a series of art classes designed to meet unmet wellness needs in older people.
Arts on Prescription Project Director, A/Prof Chris Poulos says creating art can help with a range of health and social challenges from anxiety, depression and fragility, to people experiencing social isolation or going through periods of bereavement.
“Art can also unlock a person’s creative side, giving them new interests to help them remain mentally active as they age.”
Sitting in a painting class at HammondCare’s Centre for Positive Ageing, Elizabeth tells me it’s become one of the highlights of her week.
“I love it because you’re together with people and you do something that you like and that makes you happy and content,” she says. “I live on my own, not in a retirement village, so it is an outing for me.”
Each week Elizabeth comes 20 minutes by taxi to the Centre where she’s encouraged to pick up her paintbrushes again, and not to fear failure.
In front of her is a circular piece of wood. On it she’s painted delicate hearts and crosses.
“We’re painting Mandalas,” she says. “Mandalas have to do with eastern spirituality, so I thought I’d do that in a Christian way.”
With her in the class are five other women also 65+. Across the room is Val, a spritely woman from Wattle Grove who heard about Arts on Prescription at her local over-55’s community group.
“I get lost in the work when I do it,” she says. “I forget feeling sorry for myself. I really enjoy it. It’s great. I’ve done pottery and now I’m doing painting and who knows what’s ahead!”
Val says she forgets her worries when she's painting
“In the group it’s better because you can look at each other’s paintings and you learn from each other,” says Elizabeth.
Also in the class is Claudette, who is painting penguins leaping off an iceberg. “If I can’t try to paint something like this now, I never will!” she says.
All the women agree it’s great to get out of the house, enjoy one another’s friendship and have time to explore their creative side.
I ask Elizabeth what she’s going to work on next week. “I started painting a vase of flowers last week, so perhaps I’ll finish that off next week.”
And after that, who knows? The possibilities are endless.
If you or someone you know might be interested in joining Arts on Prescription, contact the HammondCare Centre for Positive Ageing on 02 8788 3900, or by email, at AoP@hammond.com.au.