Portrait of an artist as a patient

Who do you think painted these charming watercolors?

A.            New England artist Irving Haynes

B.            Henri Matisse in his early years

C.            An Alzheimer’s patient

Of course, you know the answer is C, but the story behind the work is as captivating as the paintings themselves.  When Hilda Goldblatt Gorenstein was a patient in a Chicago-area nursing home in 1995, her daughter, Berna, asked her if she’d like to paint again. “I remember better when I paint,” Hilda answered.  A well-known and distinguished Chicago-based artist, Hilda had developed Alzheimer’s in her eighties and was often agitated and withdrawn. She had stopped painting several years earlier. When daughter Berna relayed her mother’s response to a psychiatrist who specializes in treating the elderly, he recommended she contact the School of the Art Institute of Chicago about hiring students to work with Hilda.

Within the next few years, the elderly artist created hundreds of watercolors and became a symbol of the role of the arts in dealing with neurological disorders.  Apparently, the part of the brain that controls creativity is the last part hit with this frightening disease (memory is affected first), so Hilda was able to summon her talent with the right encouragement and stimulation.

After her mother’s death, FOF Berna created the Hilgos Foundation (hilgos.org) to promote the arts among people with Alzheimer’s and educate the public about the menacing disease, an ever-growing problem as more of us live longer. Berna and French film director, Eric Ellena, also produced a documentary called “I Remember Better When I Paint.” BTW, “Hilgos” was Hilda’s nom de plume.

I want to thank FOF member, Sam, for commenting on my earlier blog about Alzheimer’s and “introducing” me to Hilda and Berna. The more we know about dementia, the less scary it becomes.

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