The Yorkton and District Nursing Home has a series of new murals decorating doors and walls thanks to the efforts of a trio of local artists; Tonia Vermette, Angelina Kardynal and Stephanie Newsham.
Karen Delong, activities director at the Yorkton and District Nursing Home first reached out to Vermette at the Yorkton Arts Council – they had worked together previously on performing arts outreach projects -- looking for local artists to paint door disguises.
“I reached out to a few of my visual arts contacts and we put together some sketches and presented them to Umair Kharral, Clinical Manager at the facility.
“We were excited to work on a project that would improve the lives of the residents.”
Kardynal said she was eager to be involved.
“When Tonia had approached me to join her on a mural project at the Yorkton and District Nursing home I was excited to simply have an opportunity to pick up a paint brush and create,” she said. “Little did I know at that time the exact impact of the project I was embarking on. The door disguise mural project that Umair Kharral has spearheaded at the Nursing home has such an important function in enhancing the quality of life for the residents.
“It was truly an honour to be part of it all.”
Kardynal added a big thank you to Kharral and Yorkton District Nursing Home for the work to bring such a project to fruition.
Newsham was happy to be part of the trio too.
“I was thrilled to be asked by Tonia to contribute to the mural project,” she said, adding it was a big step for her as an artist.
“It was definitely a challenge for me, as I am used to painting nothing larger than ‘16X20’.”
Of course creating art on six doors (two double and four singles), and a wall that is between two of the doors, had its challenges.
“For such a large project we used sample sized paints from Benjamin Moore, which had its own challenges in regard to mixing colour and application,” offered Vermette.
“We had to work around the crash bars on the double doors leading outside, which led to reorganizing the composition from the original sketch.
“Working on an immovable vertical surface meant we were sometimes perched on ladders or step stools blocking the doorways where staff had to enter or exit.”
There was a safety element to the project too.
“The challenge was to create beautiful images at the same time as disguising doors to areas that residents might try to access which would not be safe for them, or which might find them outside the facility unattended,” said Kardynal. “We strived to create visuals that were bright and cheerful and that would spark opportunities for the residents to reminisce. The rewards were felt in moments with the residents when they would discuss the elements of the murals with us and we would see how it would trigger a positive reminder for them of something from their past.”
And of course there were COVID-19 protocols to follow.
“We had to mask up, sanitize, have our temperature taken, fill out screening forms, each time we entered just as all other healthcare workers at the facilities had to do,” said Vermette.
“The staff at the nursing home were so accommodating while we were there, as we were certainly underfoot while they tended to the exceptional care they provide,” added Kardynal. “We of course had to follow all the necessary COVID precautions to ensure the safety of all.”
“COVID didn’t affect the project too much,” suggested Newsham, adding “we wore masks, of course, had our temperature taken at the entrance, and sanitized properly.
“Mostly it was sad to see the unit so quiet without visitors.”
The art all has a nostalgic look which came out of a consultation process.
“We worked with the team at the Yorkton and District Nursing Home in regard to subject matter,” said Vermette.
“In the process of design we considered objects that residents would have had in their own homes, objects that sparked memories, cheerful colors and animals.
“As we worked we sometimes came up with changes or ideas from the staff or residents. The doors all had to be paintings of interior spaces so as not to encourage residents to go through them to the ‘outside’.”
The work was also carried out under the watchful eyes of the residents.
“It was an adventure painting around curious residents,” said Newsham. “We had some regular company which was lovely! There were mostly comments voicing approval, but there were a few critical eyes as well. I had some help choosing colours too.”
“We were also very graciously welcomed by the residents into their home for eight weeks,” noted Kardynal. “It was truly a pleasure to get to know each of them as they would spend much time visiting with us and offering us some much needed advice on our project.”
“Residents interacted with us daily,” added Vermette. “They were extremely positive, telling us how nice everything looked, and occasionally trying to pick flowers, pick up toys or gather potatoes from the paintings.
“Sometimes they wanted to get right in on the action dipping their fingers into our paint or making off with paint cans or reference photos/sketches.”
Newsham said interactions were taken in stride.
“It was fun watching people trying to take items off the wall because they were convinced they were real,” she said.
And, as hoped the art elicited memories too.
“They, (residents), would often tell us stories about the objects we were including in the design, for example ‘I used to have shelves painted that same color in my house’,” said Vermette.
As it turned out the artists too learned from the project.
“When I began the project I had hoped that I would walk away with some new found knowledge of the mural painting process,” noted Kardynal.
“What I did not know is how much I would learn about life with dementia and the services that are provided to ensure safe and compassionate care.”