Learning My Self: Unnamed Art.Nomads in the Memory Arbor by Jiaoyuan Qian Yue

Posted by on August 1, 2016

Unknown Artists

In the beginning…

The art teacher comes on Wednesdays, one thirty to two thirty.

I go to help.

The table is set. At each place is painting paper taped to a foam core board; two brushes, a wide one and a small one; a plastic bowl of water; a pallet of paints. The residents come, invited or enticed.  Some come. Some can’t.  Instructions for the day’s subject are given which everyone forgets.

We make it up as we go.


Connie sits at the end of the table.  She likes her space.  Independent and feisty she wants no help and complains when she doesn’t get it.  She knows a lot about art but now sits confused, not knowing what to do first.

“I don’t know what to do”, she says.

“No one will help me.”

So we help her get started. Her once clear colors have become muddy.


Bev is happy, funny and a flirt.  She is no longer anxious to go home to get supper for her boys.  She doesn’t remember.  She needs a hand holding hers to help her paint.

“That’s lovely, Bev,” I say. “Do you want me to hold it up so you can see it?”

Bev says it’s pretty.

“Who painted it?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“You did!”

“I did?  I did pretty good!”  She laughs.

“You can write your name in this white space, Bev.”

Her hand with pencil swoops down to make its mark, then up again and down and up like a bird and down, never quite landing.

“Do you want me to write your name for you?”

“Yes.  I need to go visit those people,” she says, nodding toward someone else’s company.


Joanne is a professional, a gifted artist, prolific in her day.  She doesn’t cry  anymore because she can’t do what she used to do.  She paints and studies her work, thoughtfully determining what it needs next.   She paints beyond the boundaries of the tape.

“You can write your name here, Joanne,” we tell her when she is done.

She writes her whole name in her beautiful script. Two weeks later when again she is invited to write her name on her painting, she prints W.R.I.T.E.1.2.3.


Jean is almost completely blind.  She says she doesn’t know anything about art but she makes colors dance across the paper.  She is pleased as punch.

“I like it,” she says. “It’s happy.”

Karen doesn’t want to paint.

“You do it!  You can do it!” she commands in her gravelly voice.

Hand in hand we paint a great, multicolored heart for Valentine’s Day, the last painting she will do.

“There’s a big white space here, Karen. Do you want to paint some words? Maybe, I Love You?”

“I love you!  I love you! I love you,” she growls.

“I love you too, Karen.”

“Well!” scowls Connie from the other end of the table.  “I’m glad you two are happy!”


Father Jim isn’t much one for painting.  He paints three bright colors on his paper and then leaves, mumbling something about having to go visit the sick.


Shirley taught art in collage when she was young.  She’s quiet and smiles a Mona Lisa smile when you greet her.  She is blind in her left eye due to a stroke so her painting fills only the right side of the paper, which is all that she can see.  Her painting is fine, delicate, and very beautiful.  She paints nothing in particular and it says everything.

“Shirley, How do you know what color to use?” someone asks.

“I think,” she replies.


Carol won’t paint. Sometimes she acts out.  She wanders.

“Will you be with me?” she asks.

“In a little while, Carol.  I am helping with the painting right now.”

“I don’t mean right now.  I mean in eternity.”

“Oh, yes.  We’ll have lots of time there.”

She smiles.

She says,

“I’m lonely.”

flowers byart nomads

In the end.

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