Inspired by birds, these LTC residents used art to cope with isolation

For residents of Perley Health's long-term care home, birds have always brought colour to their world. So it was no surprise when they were asked to create art for an exhibit at the Ottawa Art Gallery about sources of strength, it took on an avian theme. 

'Wingspan' exhibit showcases pandemic works of Perley Health residents

Gabrielle Sincennes created 'Black capped chickadee.' (Andréa Fabricius/Perley Health)

For residents of Perley Health's long-term care home, birds have always brought colour to their world.

Seniors have crafted bird houses at the wood shop for several years to hang outside their windows, and observed different species stop to feed in the courtyard. During the pandemic, bird-watching became even more important for those locked in their rooms. 

Art instructor Gillian King says it came as no surprise the art took on an avian theme when residents were asked to contribute to an exhibit about sources of strength.

Long-term care residents use art to escape pandemic loneliness

1 year ago
Duration 0:39
Joyce Tuepah, 82, contributed a clay sculpture of her favourite bird, a blue bird, to the exhibit on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery.

"We started making work and very organically, birds started to show up," said King.

"We were like, why is that happening? We realized that birds are actually the animal that residents interact with the most here ... Even when we were on lockdown and it was harder to move around, we were still able to bird-watch."

Perley Health art instructor Gillian King arranges residents' work as part of the 'Wingspan' exhibit. (Andréa Fabricius/Perley Health)

About 50 residents participated in the program over the past year, painting, sculpting and creating works with ceramics, many of which are on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery's spring exhibit "Wingspan."

Joyce Tuepah, 82, sculpted a blue bird to contribute to the show, explaining "they've always been a favourite bird of mine. They're colourful, they're joyful, they're happy. They're singing a lot, and they're just nice to watch."

She says she kept busy during the pandemic watching bossy blackbirds chasing squirrels and chipmunks outside her window. For her, it was a comfort during darker times.

''I have been there and it's not a good feeling. You almost think you're the only one in the world with these kind of problems. But then, you wait for a while and you talk to yourself and say, 'no, I'm not alone. There's always someone worse off than you in any situation.'"

Joyce Tuepah, 82, says art helped rebuild connections after the loneliness of pandemic lockdown. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

For 69-year-old Paul Louiseize, making art together has been a way to rebuild community.

"You were essentially separated ... You were in a room and that's it. You couldn't go out or do much ... you couldn't even go outside," he said.

"But here, we talk and work together and help each other out. Whenever there's a problem we try to put our heads together. It shows us that we're not alone in this place."

Paul Louiseize contributed 'Morning Dove' to the exhibit. (Andréa Fabricius/Perley Health)

For King, those connections are almost as important as the works produced.

"There are a lot of really beautiful and rich conversations that came out of making works for this show," she said.

"We were talking about similarities that we have with birds and how that could relate to experiences during the pandemic ... whether we feel like we're flying free or we feel like we're nesting or we feel like we're trapped. There's a lot of really potent metaphors that were happening."

"Making work for this show brought out some really wonderful conversations and connections."

Paul Capes created this piece called 'Saloon' in Perley Health's wood shop. (Andréa Fabricius/Perley Health)

For Louiseize, who previously worked as a metal engraver, there's another lesson. That art is something that anyone, of any age, can do.

''[Art] has always been inside of everybody. Everybody has it. It's just you got to let it out. Let your little boy out or little girl out, you know?"

Wingspan is on display until May 22 at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Perley Health has scheduled visits for residents to see their works on display there over the coming weeks. 

Ina Mackenzie created this sculpture: 'Cardinal.' (Andréa Fabricius/Perley Health)