British Columbia

B.C. seniors beat quarantine boredom by recreating famous paintings featuring themselves

A purple sweater worn backwards. A shower hose. A coveted old lampshade. Meet the group of seniors who have risen to the Getty Museum Challenge.

Meet the creative crowd keeping everyone laughing inside and out at the Amenida Seniors Community

With the help of some tin foil, a blond wig and tablecloth, Ursula Fraatz makes a pretty good Queen Marie of Romania as painted by Philip de Laszlo in 1924. (Karen Schaefer)

Ursula Fraatz giggles with delight as she describes what it was like becoming Queen Marie of Romania.

"Blond is not my colour," says the 88-year-old. "I don't look nothing like her, but my family said we look like twins!"

Fraatz's recreation of the portrait painted by Philip de Laszlo in 1924 is one in a growing collection that has residents of Surrey's Amenida Seniors Community in stitches.

"We are all killing ourselves laughing," said Fraatz. 

Brenda Hawkes' transformation into Young Girl with White Dog was motivated by her canine companion, Elly.

Brenda Hawkes and Elly interpret John Russell's Portrait of a Girl with White Dog, circa 1790. (Karen Schaefer)

Elly wasn't completely co-operative at first, leery of being asked to go against training and sit on a table. But in the end, setting up the shot turned out to be just as much fun as the end result.

"While Karen was taking the picture I laughed and laughed," said Hawkes. "And then afterwards when I saw it, I laughed some more."

The outtakes are almost as good as the final portraits. (Karen Schaefer)

Karen is Karen Schaefer, the mastermind behind the masterpieces and the recreation manager at Amenida. 

The pandemic is anxiety-inducing for seniors, made worse, says Shaefer, by the need to isolate and by the fact visitors have been banned from the home since March.

So when she stumbled upon the Getty Museum Challenge on social media where people use household items to recreate famous paintings, she thought it might be a good boredom buster for her clients.

Florence Grewal as Woman with a Mango by Paul Gauguin, 1892. (Karen Schaefer)

She was right.

""One of the ladies said this is sure keeping cabin fever at bay," said Schaefer. 

"It's three stages: the hilarious part is coming up with an idea and me printing off half a dozen portraits. And then they go off and hunt for props. And the third part is we giggle our way through photo shoots."  

Jim Cullina recreation of Self Portrait with a Sunflower, Anthony van Dyke, 1632. (Karen Schaefer)

A burgundy coat was the inspiration behind Jim Cullina's portrait. Add a shower hose, flower and some quilt batting taped to the wall, and voila!  van Dyke's Self Portrait with Sunflower.

Florence Grewal's favourite purple sweater worn backwards was the foundation for Gauguin's Woman with a Mango.

Margret Beaver with lampshade as Renoir's Young Girl in a Straw Hat, 1884. (Karen Schaefer)

And an old lampshade is now the favoured objet d'art, hilariously subbing in for a hat in both Margaret Beaver's and Dorothy Hannah's recreations. 

"Someone said 'can you find another painting with a hat, because I'd like to wear the lampshade,'" laughed Shaefer. 

Again, the lampshade. This time worn by Dorothy Hannah in Portrait of a Young Woman by Isacc Israels, 1920. (Karen Schaefer)

More famous painting portraits are in the works. Schaefer says knowing it's helping to keep spirits up is as gratifying as the laughs. 

"What's really touched my heart is that they're asking, 'am I going to be on Facebook? Will you email [the photos] to my daughter or my friend? Or they'll say, I've got to call my sister, my daughter, my brother to let them know."

"We do all miss the outside world," said Fraatz. "But we are having fun."

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