‘Creative aging:’ Morris artist, seniors collaborate on mural as part of Mayo PAC program

2-minute read Kyle Morel  Newton New Jersey Herald

MORRIS TOWNSHIP — Many seniors at the Cornerstone Family Programs Adult Day Center likely did not consider themselves artists a few weeks ago. 

But thanks to a new collaboration with the Mayo Performing Arts Center, a mural featuring their handiwork is now permanently on display at the Morris Township facility.

The artwork was unveiled Thursday afternoon in the Cornerstone building on West Hanover Avenue, marking the culmination of the Creative Aging Arts program launched in May. The eight-week program, funded by a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, teaches participants to create artwork with complex patterns and shapes while enjoying a sense of relaxation through the process. 

The program featured 16 sessions twice a week led by MPAC teaching artist Dan Fenelon. The seniors learned basic art techniques in the early sessions before planning out the final project, a 44-by-66-inch mixed media mural that used watercolors, tissue paper and markers in the design. 

“I try to make the program fit around different levels of skill,” Fenelon said. “It was kind of organic. I had to come in and sort of see where everybody was at and then kind of develop how we were going to execute the mural based on that.” 

Each 90-minute session included groups of five or six seniors working together at a time. Fenelon created preliminary sketches and asked the groups to brainstorm “uplifting” themes like trees, flowers and birds to include in the mural. 

“We got into such a routine during that time,” said Pat Kraemer, director of the Adult Day Center. “We rotated them in and everyone had opportunities, and it was just a nice, really wonderful project.” 

Among the more experienced members of the program was Roberta “Bert” Schwartz. She is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, and some of her drawings are displayed on the Cornerstone walls. 

Liz Milio, on the other hand, was never an artist and jokingly remarked, “I can’t draw a straight line.” But she soon realized that she could contribute to the mural in different ways. 

“I found that by gluing things together, overlapping different colors, that I could get an effect that I found pleasing,” Milio said. “I had a great deal of fun.” 

The Adult Day Center was established to provide an environment of social interaction for aging adults on weekdays. It is managed by Cornerstone Family Programs & Morristown Neighborhood House, a nonprofit organization that aims to help community members of all ages live happy, healthy and productive lives. 

Cornerstone partners with MPAC in a variety of child and adult initiatives, CEO Patrice Picard said, and the organization hopes to continue a program like Creative Aging Arts if funding is available. Picard viewed the finished mural Thursday not only as a beautiful addition to the center, but also a testament to the power of community among the seniors. 

“Hopefully, this will not just be a piece of art for all of you,” she said to the artists. “Hopefully, it will be in your hearts, give you joy and let you know how creative and how strong you all are. So every time you see it, that’s what you should think.” 

Kyle Morel is a local reporter covering Morris and Sussex counties. 

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