Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lester's Story

Art can often be a window to bypass the constrictions of dementia.
~ Andrew Duxbury, M.D., Medical Director, UAB Geriatric Clinic
University of Alabama/Birmingham Center for Aging

Clearly, art has a way of exhibiting pieces of the soul
that don't appear in a science lab. Work like Lester's,
. . . is a prescient reminder that science needs art.
~ Daniel C. Potts, Founder and President, Cognitive Dynamics

I've shared on several occasions* stories about the ways that art allows us a means to expression when we've otherwise lost our ability to communicate. Today, I offer the story of Lester Potts, who, diagnosed at age 70 with Alzheimer's disease, eventually lost his ability to articulate his needs and feelings in words.

Exposed at his adult day care facility to creative arts therapies, Potts took up brush and watercolors and over four years, until his death in 2007, put his spirit into many dozens of drawings and paintings, which came to reflect his childhood on Alabama's Gulf Coast. His artmaking, as has been shown with others, improved his mood and behavior and thus enhanced the last years of his life.

Pott's son, Dr. Daniel C. Potts of Cognitive Dynamics, has widely exhibited his father's paintings to raise awareness of how exposure to the arts can benefit individuals with Alzheimer's, who often experience isolation because they lose their ability to speak and display changes in demeanor that can make caregiving both difficult and exhausting. He published a book, The Broken Jar (World Way Press, 2006), which features some of his father's paintings. His company Cognitive Dynamics is among a number of organizations researching art therapy's effects on persons with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. One of its current initiatives is "Art to Life", a program that brings the arts to patients where they live.

The video below, "Painting in Twilight: An Artist's Escape From Alzheimer's", tells Lester Potts's story and shows some of the more than 100 artworks he produced in his final years. It was produced for UAB Magazine (see related article below).

Ultimately, Lester Potts's story is uplifting, because artmaking gave him a way to remain of this world, even as his mind robbed him of his ability to be actively present in the here and now. 


* See, for example, these earlier posts: 'I Remember Better When I Paint' (September 2, 2010),  Introduction to 'Poetry' the Film (June 10, 2010), and Wednesday Wonder: Artist Tom Shannon (February 10, 2010).

The quotation by Daniel C. Potts is from "Painting in Twilight: Mending a Shattered Memory of Art & Alzheimer's" at Cognitive Dynamics, Press Release, September 9, 2011.

Of interest: "Rescuing Memories: An Honors College Class Helps Alzheimer's Patients Recall Their Life Experience" in Alabama Alumni Magazine, Fall 2011. Also see: "An Artist Matures: Painting in Twilight", UAB Magazine, Spring 2008.


Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you.

I am speechless.

I am moved.

I am...


Ruth said...

This is amazingly beautiful and moving. My mother, who had Alzheimer's, though she often couldn't communicate with words, played the piano almost to the end, even accompanying a soloist who came to practice at the home where she lived.

I also think about my daughter's unborn baby, and how we want to learn baby sign so that what he can't communicate with words can be communicated in another way. Thrilling!

Ann said...

This is fascinating, Maureen, thanks for sharing Lester's art. Dare I say his very last painting made me tear up?

S. Etole said...

So beautiful and poignantly said and illustrated.

And yes, tears.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Maureen. I saw the video recently and sent it to my dad, who is caring for my mom, who has Alzheimer's. Mom was an art major, and Dad had already provided her with a sketch pad and pencils. When we move to Dallas next month we'll be living across the street from them, and I'm already planning to set up a couple of easels and spend some time painting with Mom. We are all excited to see what this will do for her.

Art is amazingly powerful, connecting with deep parts of the brain. We've seen this in our brain-injured son, Jacob, and his connection to music. So glad that science is catching up with this reality.

Anonymous said...

art is a lot of things...oh, yes.

Kathleen Overby said...

"....we have an absolute need to create." Amen.