For these women, art knows no age limit

October 29, 2006|By McClatchy-Tribune

Getting older is not something people like to talk about today. But Berkeley, Calif., author Amy Gorman still thought it was a great topic for a book.

Aging Artfully (PAL Publishing; $20) is Gorman's look at the lives of 12 visual and performing women artists between the ages of 85 and 105, an idea she came up with several years ago.

"I was in my early 60s at the time," recalled Gorman, 66. "I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to hang out with older women, particularly women artists, and see how the creative process evolved in older women."

Through friends and the Stagebridge theater in Oakland, Calif., Gorman found the women she was looking for. Over the next few years, she visited with each of them several times, getting closer and learning more about them as artists, and as people.

"I always loved hearing people's stories," said Gorman, a former social worker. "Then I got this rich treasure of stories. I didn't know what I was going to do with the information, but I knew that I had to write it."

The women Gorman interviewed were excited about her project.

"I thought 'Why not?'" said Isabel Ferguson, a painter featured in the book who will turn 90 in November. "I thought it was a good idea and I liked her, and I liked her interest in us."

The book, accompanied by a DVD and a CD of songs about the women, also tries to redefine what aging looks like today.

"Older people are definitely stigmatized," Gorman said. "They're old and wrinkled. But these women love what they're doing. They love life. They have a purpose."

Having a purpose in life is what keeps many of the women Gorman interviewed engaged and happy. For them, painting, dancing, singing, acting, rug weaving and other art forms are ways to have a full life.

"You can't stay happy if you have nothing to do and just sit around," said dancer Dorothy Takahashi Toy, 89. "You have to find something that makes you happy and keep doing it."

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