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Voices / Essay

The joy of painting is ageless

Lynn Martin is a poet and painter.


What you hear first is the laughter.

When you peek in the door, there are 10 or so heads bent over a long table as if people are participating in some ancient ritual. Actually, that might be one definition of painting. For that is what you are seeing if you are on the second floor of the Brattleboro Senior Center on a Tuesday or a Thursday morning.

I was lucky enough to find the room several years ago. What did I know about painting? If anyone had asked me, I would have quoted that old cliché, “I can’t even draw a straight line.”

But I was enticed there by Marilyn Allen. She is the teacher from the River Gallery School Outreach Program for seniors.

Marilyn would have none of that “I can’t” stuff. A student of Ric Campman’s sequencing, she set me in front of three pieces of paper in a row, and taped them down with masking tape. She gave me a few instructions on setting up a landscape or a seascape, and I was off.

It’s simple, she said, handing me a latex glove and a palette full of color. And off I went, finger painting my way, following my hand, doing whatever happened. When she removed the masking tape, there was a recognizable landscape.


* * *

Next, I picked up a brush and again followed the mystery. All those around me were doing the same. Each had developed a unique style all their own, from realism to abstract expressionism.

We wander the room, view what others are doing, ask questions, tease one another, laugh, and create.

We are a group on the same principle as the French Impressionists. They were a group who collaborated, encouraged, and learned from one another just as we do.

And everywhere is Marilyn. She helps when it is needed; lets you go your own way when you’re ready. She has a unique ability to help unobtrusively.

She is gentle with us. She treats us with respect, no matter where we are on the spectrum of learning. She helps us mount a show at the Moore Free Library in Newfane every year or so.

* * *

We are truly grateful for Marilyn, the River Gallery School, and the Senior Center for this wonderful program that allows us to reach out and find a new way of seeing in the world.

This is an invitation to come and visit. Come and be part of the conversation. Come and give encouragement and support. Come just to see what we are doing. Or come and take a lesson too. Bring your sense of humor. Bring your willingness to let go and follow the paint wherever it takes you.

Like what we do? Help us keep doing it!

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Originally published in The Commons issue #184 (Wednesday, January 2, 2013).

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