Unbuttoning their creativity

Sally Cole
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Geneva Villa residents take part in Learning Elders Arts Program

Dipping her delicate hand into a large bottle, Grace Swan’s eyes sparkle as she sifts through hundreds of brightly-coloured buttons.

“It’s lovely to see them all together. That way you can see (them) to pick out the ones that you want,” the Geneva Villa resident says.

Last week she opted over the red, yellow, purple and green discs to find instead the perfect turquoise and blue ones to decorate a trinket box she was making for her great-granddaughter.

“I looked for colours that go together. I really like the pastels,” says Swan, pointing to the table.

Now complete, her box sits proudly on display with the others at the senior citizens residence in Charlottetown.

Swan is one of 15 seniors who took part in the button craft workshop with actor Joscelynne Bordeaux at the residence over the last five weeks.

It’s part of the Learning Elders Arts Program (L.E.A.P.) funded by the P.E.I. Department of Tourism and Culture under the direction of minister Robert Vessey.

Seated on a nearby chair Sophia Bondt proudly displays her completed trinket box.

“I think I’ll keep it. I like doing things with my hands,” says Bondt, who is the one painting many of the pieces before passing them onto the residents to decorated.

Finding a craft that would be both fun and meaningful to seniors was a challenge, says Bourdeaux.

“I wanted to do an activity with seniors involving recycling. I had submitted a button wreath to the Confederation Centre for its Christmas wreath contest and it was such a fascinating experience . . . . I also knew that buttons were something that seniors were familiar with. Many of them spoke of having a jar of buttons that would get passed down from one generation to the next.

“I was also conscious of trying to keep my costs down,” she says.

But before she could begin the class, she had to find a steady supply.

So she put out a provincewide bulletin for buttons.

“Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea and they were forthcoming. So we got thousands. They just kept coming in,” she says.

Like gemstones or pieces of sea glass, these tiny tactile treasures, seen in bulk, inspire everyone’s imagination.

“Even when I was collecting them at the Atlantic Fitness Centre, where I work, people would come in, stick their hand in the jar just let them run through their fingers,” she says.

Bordeaux’s presence is a positive one, says activity director John O’Hanley.

“Bringing local artists into the villa helps our residents to connect with the Island community.

“Many are not able to go out and get involved. So we bring people in. In the process our residents feel a sense of belonging and the activity helps to stimulate the senses. Many past abilities and talents thus resurface with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,” he says.

Back at her chair, Swan is talking to others about her handiwork.

“It was so much fun going through the buttons,” she says.

Organizations: PEI Department, Confederation Centre, Atlantic Fitness Centre

Geographic location: Charlottetown.Swan, Iceland

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