More than a field trip: sparking inspiration at the Leighton Centre
Excursion to the Leighton Art Centre has lasting effects for residents
Ascending the steep driveway, the bus pulls up to a stop in front of quaint homestead. The house is unassuming, save for some more-whimsical-than-usual windchimes and a small historical designation badge flanking the front door.
On the surface, this outing to the Leighton Centre, an Alberta-based museum, gallery, and working studio simply looks like an activity to fill time – an amusement – but the outing actually serves a grander purpose: To inspire residents to try something new – to find a new first.
It’s easy to get lost in the views from A.C. Leighton’s West-facing studio – the uninterrupted vistas of the Rocky Mountains are breathtaking. Barbara Leighton’s atrium, built from reclaimed wood, is humid, lush and green – a welcome sight for winter-weary eyes.
Residents from United Active Living have been exploring the spaces, marvelling at the views, taking in the exhibitions, and raiding the gift shop, but most importantly, asking the Leighton Centre staff and United studio facilitators… how?
How did Barbara expertly craft her signature wood block prints? Tools, inks, and register blocks are out on display along with her work; demonstrating the printmaking process. “She had to have had a clear strategy, it can’t be easy to carve backwards and in reverse,” a resident observes, “I could never do that! What happens if I make a mistake?”
“You’re seeing the culmination of years and years of failed experiments” the studio facilitator, an artist herself, offers – joking about a garage full of old portfolios, most containing nothing of note: reams of paper, full of sketches, studies, and drafts. “What’s the worst that could happen? If you’re not happy with the results, you learned something new, you can try again, and you had fun.”
Back in the Fish Creek art studio, resident Diane has spent two months experimenting with glazes and stencils on ceramic tiles, in a quest to create a vase she’s envisioned for some time. “Working on tiles gave me an idea of what I needed to do so my vase would turn out how I wanted – but even still, I couldn’t have predicted what the end result would be.” Diane muses, “I couldn’t be happier with it, and I can’t wait to start my next project. Looking at the works we saw by Juliana Rempel at the Leighton Centre, the glazes and techniques she used are so interesting. I’d like to try and do something similar for my next piece.”
At United, the facilitators – all professional artists in their own right – create a space where residents are free to explore, experiment, and to draw their inspiration from anything or anywhere – often trying methods and mediums for the first time. The art studio is always open, and is stocked with a variety of materials at the ready. Residents gather to chat and to work on their projects, either self-directed or guided by the studio facilitators, many of which are displayed throughout the community.
Collaborative pieces like quilts and mosaics are in various stages of progress in the studio, offering anyone the opportunity to take part. Many residents have stations set up permanently, including one resident, who brought her loom into the studio and spends time teaching other residents how to weave and creating gifts for neighbours and loved ones alike.
When Barbara Leighton opened the doors of her home to the public fifty years ago, she created a space to encourage the exploration of art and nature for everyone who visits. Contrary to social norms at the time, Barbara resumed her formal art education midlife, and her legacy exemplifies lifelong exploration and learning. She recognized the value of educational programs for people of all ages and stages of creative expression – a philosophy that United Active Living champions in all programming and experiences.
Like most things, art is about the journey. We sometimes forget artists didn’t create their notable works on first attempt. Or even the second. They had to fill books of studies, sketches, and drafts. They had to trust the process.
It’s been shown that creative endeavours improve cognitive function for people of all ages, but significantly, for seniors experiencing symptoms of dementia, solving creative problems improves their quality of life, by offering a sense of purpose and spurring creative expression.
The outing to the Leighton Centre offered residents an opportunity to see the life and processes of artists Barbara and A.C. Leighton, and to bring inspiration back into the studio at home. A new glazing technique, a new pattern for a blanket, a new medium. A new first.
Speak with one of our active living advisors about life in a United community. They can arrange tours of our Garrison Green and Fish Creek communities. If you know a friend or family member who could benefit from living in a United community, send them a link to our website or blog, or arrange a future visit. We are happy to help!