Art at Three Pillars Connects, Unifies, and Engages
If you spend one day at Three Pillars’ Village on the Square Independent Living community, you’ll encounter creativity. You’ll meet an artistically gifted person, encounter beautiful artwork in one medium or another, or experience the way unique creativity overflows from just about every nook and cranny of the place. You’ll see two resident-led art classes each week that cover a broad range of skills, you’ll admire rotating artwork on display in common areas, and you’ll interact with the kindest, most diverse, talented, residents you’d ever hope to meet.
While Three Pillars has always welcomed and encouraged all aspects of wellness for older adults, in recent years it’s become unmistakably clear that art matters for a well-rounded and fulfilling lifestyle. To say we’re proud of our resident-led art programs and the way our overall culture leans into creativity would be an understatement.
This emphasis on the arts certainly didn’t happen by accident – there are a few key players to thank for that, and three of them got together recently to tell the story.
As Village on the Square independent living residents Dint Sweitzer, Dawn Bachmann, and Lark Kulikowski know, engaging in creative endeavors is proven to be wildly beneficial for health and wellbeing. Better yet, when one continues pursuing art into their golden years, the benefits multiply. This is proven by several studies like as this one by Gene Cohen, MD, PhD, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
When Inspiration Struck
So how did this wave of artisticness come to wash over Three Pillars? Dint, Lark, and Dawn explain the story.
Though she never took art classes in school, Dint Sweitzer set her mind to getting started at age 32. Now an avid, accomplished artist, it’s safe to say she never looked back. She caught the bug and her natural knack was unleashed. Today, Dint’s mixed-media, three-dimensional acrylic painting style of art is unmistakably unique and her talent is admired by many.
About seven years ago, before living at Three Pillars, Dint participated in an art show where she showed her work for about a month at another senior community. A seed was planted.
Fast forward to October of 2017, when she moved into Three Pillars’ Village on the Square Independent Living. She was meeting new neighbors daily and getting to know the place more and more.
As she put up pieces of her artwork in her apartment, she found that her peers were intrigued with her unique artistic style, riveted to her story and wanting to learn more. She was asked to display her pieces in the hallway outside her apartment so others could enjoy them. She entertained questions almost daily about her skills and her artistic story.
As she continued to get settled in her new home, she met fellow neighbor at the time, the late Martin Murk, who was a nationally-renowned artist of several Federal Duck Stamps and more. Their artistic common ground was the foundation for what would quickly grow into a strong friendship. Dint and Marty found themselves discussing how much their neighbors at Three Pillars were interested in their art.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if they could all enjoy some extra exposure to the arts – maybe even a demonstration, an art show, a class?” Dint recalls them pondering. They thought, why not them? They decided to propose it, and the conversations began.
After conferring with Three Pillars’ Lifestyles team to see about offering their first resident-led art class as a scheduled recreational program, they landed on offering a six-week art series on Fridays – it was the only day available on the jam-packed recreation calendar for a recurring session. The class was promoted and the instructors got ready.
“We knew we’d teach a broad range of skills, but start small and be very accepting of all interest and skill levels,” said Dint. “All forms of art can and should get together! In a class setting and out in the world, there’s no such thing as ‘as good as theirs’ – art is all different, and we wanted to share that perspective with others.”
As they got started with class, attendance was high! Some of the participants were timid to get started, others were all-in.
“The great thing about art is it brings out so many positives,” Dint says. “Personalities blossom through art, too! A lot of participants initially would stay back, not interact much, and just follow the basics. As we got going, they soon were the ones getting up and giving the excitement and inspiration to others!”
Lark Kulikowski, a fellow self-taught art enthusiast, has always had a passion for gardening. Over the years, she was featured in several magazines showcasing her impressive gardens, which at one time spanned hundreds of feet. She’s always thought of the garden as her canvas; a way to express herself creatively and nurture a beautiful nature-infused work of art.
Beyond her gardening, Lark has also always taken interest in watercolor painting. She hadn’t yet found the time or the right setting to pursue that interest fully, but that was about to change. She and Dave were on the waiting list for Three Pillars’ Village on the Square, and were there often visiting her mother, who is also a resident. Lark met Martin Murk over the course of those regular visits, and had come to greatly admire his incredible skill. She was also fascinated by his successful artistic past. She was always energized by his studio and all the art that filled his place. Lark loved knowing that such a talented artist lived at the place she would soon call home once she moved in.
When she caught wind that yet another artistically talented resident named Dint had moved in, she was excited all over again. Then when Dint and Marty decided to offer an art class together, Lark was thrilled. The class was open to family and friends of residents, so she was in.
Class is in Session
The first day of class, Lark walked in and saw Dint from across the room. She remembers thinking, “Oh yes, I know that must be Dint; she looks like an artist!”
Lark and her fellow attendees were impressed with art class. She learned a great deal right off the bat, and had a chance to grow and evolve in that time under Dint and Marty’s innovative yet gentle guidance.
At the end of the six-week series, Dint asked the class, “Raise your hand if you liked this series and want classes to continue.” Much to everyone’s delight, “They did! I would’ve never know it, but here we are, now almost four years later, going strong with solid art classes!”
As class evolved, they introduced guest artists and co-teachers. They started with pencil drawing and soon layered in painting, as well. Additional techniques followed.
Lark credits Dint for inspiring her to get into acrylic painting. To date, it’s one of her favorite mediums. It calms her down, and it’s nearly impossible to get frustrated with, since you can always go over it when you’re done to fix or do it a different way.
Lark, among others, has continued participating in art class, and she moved into the Village on the Square with her husband, Dave, in July of 2020.
“We are living art here at Three Pillars – you can’t help it,” says Lark. “It’s all around us and it’s a wonderful, beneficial thing for everyone. While some people got involved with art decades ago, some people like me are just looking to get into it in retirement. I view every day as a gift, and I’m so happy to get to spend some of my days learning and practicing art.”
If you thought that one successful art class was where this story ends, think again. In April of 2018, Dawn and the late Clyde Bachmann moved into Three Pillars’ Village on the Square.
You guessed it – she was another person with a rich art background! Her career had been as a grade 1-12 art teacher in the Elmbrook school system and the Brookfield Academy.
Even as a young woman, she had that artistic sparkle. Unfortunately, a family emergency meant she had to forgo the four-year scholarship she’d been offered at Layton School of Art, but that didn’t dull her creativity. She instead accepted a four-year scholarship to UW Milwaukee and received her B.S. in Art Education with a minor in Political Science.
Personally, she’s always enjoyed artistic endeavors, from painting in oil to gardening, quilting, knitting, designing architecture, landscaping, ornamental iron furniture, and culinary creations.
After moving into Three Pillars, eventually Dawn offered to help with art class. She knew well that art preferences, styles, and interests vary. She suggested each participant obtain the required art supplies to get ready for her series. This was one more step in a new direction as the art classes at Three Pillars continued to grow.
Lark remembers well when Dawn got involved with art classes. “When yet another talented artist moved into Village on the Square, I thought how lucky are we!?”
Dawn’s lesson plans pushed the envelope and broadened horizons. New concepts were introduced. Some participants were more insecure than others, but the beauty was when sharing ideas began. She’d see tablemates ask, “How’d you do that?” Answer: “Oh this? I just tried smudging with my fingers and it turned out pretty nice!”
Dawn introduced lessons using pencils, pastels, and various mediums. While not every type of art was every participant’s favorite, they willingly tried it all. As Dawn encouraged each student individually, the new artists became amazed with their work. Soon thereafter, she brought in human models! Now, the 24”x18” drawings evolved into even more meaningful compositions!
With so much enthusiasm, an art show was organized by Dawn and Dint. The event featuring art and music was highly praised.
Today, Dawn leads a second weekly art class focused on three-dimensional sculpture, so there’s truly something for everyone when it comes to learning and growing artistically.
Classes That Do More Than Teach
For Dawn, Dint, and fellow guest teachers along the way, the philosophy for art classes at Three Pillars place emphasis on variety. “Art class success means offering different things. Different brains like different things. Some people like it all! The agenda is: No one is the same.”
Lark reflects, “This variety in class opened my mind to new ideas. For example, after Dint introduced mixed media collages, I added details I never would’ve tried before, like stuffing the hat on my drawing. Those concepts come back to me on various occasions now, allowing me to think differently than I did before.”
Dint says, “And that’s the beauty of art. I’m vehemently opposed to having things one way, and our art classes encourage that individuality.”
Art is All Around
With the influence and expertise of Dint, Dawn, Lark, and others, an overall artistic culture has grown at Three Pillars. All the while, residents and staff experience the benefits of being surrounded by creativity.
Dint says, “We have so many creative people here who do all different forms of art. You see, there’s wood carving, quilting, sketching, painting, paper art, and so much more! It’s all art. And the more we encourage and highlight these arts, the more they emerge.”
Lark agrees. “Art is many things – it’s designing clothing, decorating apartments, it’s quilting, carving, sewing, gardening, decorating eggs… you name it.”
And even for those residents who would describe themselves as non-artistic, many find themselves enjoying the benefits of art simply being present in their living environment, and the artistic people around them.
According to Dint, “You see the ripple effect. People will ask when we’re having another art show, or what the next art class theme is. People love this stuff – even the non-artists. And the truth is, even for the non-artistically inclined, it brings it out in them; it stimulates them. They might not want to do it themselves, but it sure interests them and enriches the whole atmosphere here!”
Lark’s husband, Dave, said just the other day that simply being around Lark and others who create art inspires him. He finds himself looking at the world differently. On a recent bus trip, he and Lark watched the sunset for 45 minutes and admired the way it changed, enjoying every moment, every hue, every shape. It’s an appreciative mindset he attributes in part to the art that he experiences in his everyday living environment.
So, what’s next for Three Pillars? More learning, growing, broadening horizons, and enhancing wellness in all dimensions – that’s for sure!
The community’s first theater club just began, so more dramatic arts performances are in our future, as well.
“We are SO lucky to have all of this around us – artistic people and a creative culture. Lucky us to get to soak up and enjoy all this creativity and the benefits it brings!” Lark comments.
Dint sums it up well: “The whole idea of sharing art is to enrich peoples’ lives here at Three Pillars. If those people who are unsure about art could just pick up enough confidence and a bit of skill to add art to their skillset, they can even do it alone in their apartment. It’s just one beautiful way to get going and make sure you’re not just sitting watching TV. Art enriches the lives of older adults! Once you plant seed, it takes off.”
As for all three ladies, they look forward to seeing the community’s interest in art continue to build.
“Who knows what the next artsy niche is that some future resident will teach in a new class someday!” Dint muses. “We can’t wait.”