Barb Warfel takes in the lush landscape that Maxine is painting before offering a suggestion.
“OK, Max, let’s get a little bit of light blue on top of that,” she says. “Let’s get a smaller brush because those are small areas, just to get it a little bit lighter.”
Warfel is leading her students at Homeland Center’s twice-monthly art classes. Sitting in Homeland’s cheery Ted Lick Room, residents first learn the basics of drawing and then graduate to painting. Eventually, they have a portfolio of still lifes and scenes in pencil and tempura paint.
The classes are just one way that Homeland residents express themselves and broaden their horizons through art. Homeland’s Florida Room is a gallery for rotating exhibits by guest artists arranged by the Art Association of Harrisburg, providing such high-quality works as watercolors, landscapes, portraits and nature scenes for residents to enjoy. A “paint and sip” activity allows residents to get in on the nationwide craze of painting while enjoying a favorite beverage.
Warfel is an experienced teacher who has worked with older individuals for 15 years. Her students start by drawing lines, then crossing them on the page until shapes emerge. In one early lesson, they draw three pears in pencil to learn the intricacies of shading from light to dark. In another, they experiment with the interplay of colors by coloring butterflies in their own imaginative combinations and designs.
Painting gives residents “a whole new perspective on seeing,” Warfel says.
“They’re seeing differently because they’ve learned to see beyond ‘that’s a chair,’ ” she explains. “They’ll see past that. They’ll see variations in color. They’ll see how the light and the shadows change things.’’
Art is also “good mental exercise,” Warfel says. “They’re making choices and making decisions. It gets them concentrating and focused.”
On a day when sunlight streams in through the Lick Room windows, two of Warfel’s students recalled that they had done little painting before starting classes with Warfel five years ago. Warfel shows a painting by Betty of peeled oranges, and you can almost smell the citrus. The shades of orange are dynamic. The peels have texture.
Betty jokes that, “If you stand back far away, it looks good.” But she adds that some people don’t pursue art because they think they have to be good at it the first time they put brush to paper.
“Everybody else said they couldn’t do it,” Betty says. “We couldn’t do it, either. You can learn something at any age.”
Facing Betty from the other side of the table, Maxine says that she used to “paint things at home,” such as kitchen glassware. What does she like about painting?
“It keeps me out of trouble,” she jokes.
After Warfel explains how to create depth by using three shades of each color, Maxine says that she “started out drawing and ended up painting.”
Betty compliments Warfel’s methodical approach. “She starts from the very beginning, because she is a teacher,” Betty says.
The students enjoy giving their works to friends, family and Homeland staff. Betty’s daughter finds matted frames at yard sales and replaces the pictures with her mother’s works. One of Betty’s lovely paintings, framed by her daughter, is a copy of a simple but powerful Van Gogh still life of a forsythia branch in a glass of water.
Betty views her works – all rich with precision and depth – with self-effacing humor. She likes the red flowers she’s painting on this day because “you can make a lot of mistakes, and then when it dries, it looks pretty good.”
Warfel assures Betty that her work is lovely. She tries to maintain a lighthearted tone, and her artists respond.
“This is very carefree, and no-stress,” Warfel says. “I want to make it fun.”