“When I listen to what you say, I can hear who you are.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words accompanied me during conversations with three older adults, now retired and dealing with art, as both amateurs and professionals. In what ways are they creative? What does art give them? Why do they choose artistic activities from a range of other possibilities? Here are their stories.
Basia Fiałkowska aka Ewa Nowak
– I can say it out loud now – I slept through it! I was in the first year of my studies at the theatre school in Warsaw. I went home before the summer exams. My parents, opposed to such education, simply forced me to stay at home, and I never returned to Warsaw. I was sick. Back then, it was said to be neurosis. Today, I know that it was something rather debilitating. I gave in. My main education is law, but years later my rebellious subconscious led me to do a postgraduate degree in journalism. In a way, that was a substitute for my youthful dreams and plans. Perhaps in the eyes of others, my life was a string of successes. I now realise that many envied me. But that wasn’t me. The moment I realised that I let someone else live my life for me was extremely painful; it was as if I hit a wall. I didn’t bounce back. I crashed, paused and decided to live up to the expectations of the proverbial 25-year-old girl. Today, at 72, I keep thinking ahead, I don’t let my life leave me behind. I’m still curious about almost everything. I am glad that I was able to revive this juvenile joy in me – but not the flat, cheerful kind. I try not to waste my time, but also not to force anything. I still have plans and I hope that life will surprise me again with happiness, wisdom, and kindness.”1
Basia continues to fulfil her stage-related dreams and is actively involved in the cultural life of Poznań and beyond. She dances and sings in Wielkopolanie Folk Group. She seems to have unlimited amounts of energy, but also – as she says –the courage to provoke. She is not afraid of challenges. She is an amateur actor in theatre, TV series and music videos, a model and performer. Recently, she is the president of, probably the first in Poland, Senior Gender Club at Barak Kultury in Poznań.
What motivates Basia? She can finally express herself. There are no limits on stage. In art, one doesn’t have to stick to the rules or unwritten social norms: “you mustn’t”, “you shouldn’t”, or “you should.”
– And you never know if it’s the real me or the character I play – adds Basia, who is more and more often recognised under her artistic pseudonym, Ewa Nowak. Although her actions are often met with envy and disbelief, and some friends do not accept her now (“How come?! A judge doing things like this?!”), this will not stop her from acting. As part of the Poznań Week of Tolerance, Basia co-created a group called Rainbow Seniors, and together with them took part in the project “Nitką do tęczy” [A thread to the rainbow]. Ladies sitting in the window of Barak Kultury embroidered a rainbow flag. Teresa Sałamaszek, our next guest, was also among the authors of this action.
– Each of us was dressed in a different colour. I was “the purple one.” I chose this colour myself – she said. Ania chose red, Basia yellow, Danuta orange, Róża green, and Grażyna blue. I made all these colourful outfits – she added quietly, with a hint of shyness.
It turned out that these colourful costumes, which many considered artworks, were not the first to come out of her hands. Previously, she created ornaments used to decorate performances and various art projects.
– I like to share my passion with others. I knit, I do embroidery. It gives me great pleasure. And perhaps even greater pleasure is that I am needed, and so are my works – says Teresa.
– I started much later than Basia, after I retired! In fact, I never had the thought, “I would be fit for the stage.” An instructor of one of the projects encouraged me. On the day when I was decorating the hall, it turned out that something needed to be improved, and I was asked to perform a short part on stage. I was told it was just to see if everything was working. But when the instructor saw me dancing, she urged me to stay on stage. In the end, she succeeded. She convinced me, and I am very happy about it. Now I encourage others because I know that many people my age have no motivation to leave the house. They feel that they do not fit into this world, or that they cannot keep up with it, that it is not a friendly place for them – adds Teresa.
Some years ago, painting became a form of therapy for Teresa and a way out of depression.
– I found a wonderful doctor who suggested I should paint. At the beginning, my paintings were grey, kept in dark colours, but with time, just like my life, they started to cheer up. I still paint to this day. I have moved away from canvas and paints, but I hope it’s only temporary. Now I sketch more – for example, portraits or buildings. I am trying to look for similarities to reality. It’s also very convenient, because I can do it anywhere – even in the park, on a bench. I also often use watercolours. I still paint my favourite flowers – poppies and tulips. I am also trying to use new techniques. I have been making lace for some time, but not just tablecloths – I also make gloves, knee-socks and decorative umbrellas. I know that art has become my medicine. It was healing, and it brought back the joy of life. “Even a few months ago, when I suddenly had to go to the hospital, I took my sketchbook with me,” she added, a little lost in thought.
Dancing and choreography have accompanied Juliusz for as long as he can remember. He has been a choreographer for over twenty-five years, was the first dancer at the Grand Theatre in Poznań, and a ballet soloist at the Konrad Drzewiecki Polish Dance Theatre. He taught classical and folk dance at the Poznań Ballet School, of which he is a graduate. Juliusz is currently using his experience by conducting classes in the Siekieracy Song and Dance Ensemble at the Municipal and Communal Cultural Centre in Kostrzyn Wielkopolski. His tasks include teaching national dances: polonez, kujawiak, mazurek, krakowiak, or oberek. During the classes, he also uses other movement techniques – basic Tai Chi and Tibetan exercises.
– They have a huge impact on the coordination and psychophysical condition of the dancers. But not just dancers – he adds.
Juliusz also teaches the basic movements of this Chinese art of exercise for harmony and health to seniors at the Winogrady Community Centre.
What motivates me? My most important aim, and the goal of the classes, is the health of the participants – their strength and efficiency, and development of the entire body (skeletal muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints). After just a few moves, I know if someone has dealt with sport or has been physically active. Unfortunately, it is often the case that people I meet have to return to activity, or learn it. Luckily, the combination of the unusual properties of Tai Chi with dance gives very quick results! After just a few months of exercise, you feel an increase in strength, and problems with the spine decrease. Practising breathing, tranquillity, or meditation is also very important. At the beginning, I pay special attention to strengthening and relaxing the body. That’s very important.
– I am glad when participants say that with each class they feel better, and more agile – adds Juliusz. I am also glad that I can still share my knowledge and experience. I learned the basics of Tai Chi gymnastics when I retired. I had the opportunity to learn everything in the United States for six months, under the supervision of the best specialists. I’ve been working as a freelancer all my life. I didn’t have to agree to anything that I didn’t like. That’s important. After reaching pre-retirement age, many dancers had to retrain. They either worked backstage, or changed professions altogether. Thanks to my pedagogical education, I was able to not only dance, but also teach dancing. Art is freedom. It has always been like this for me. I worked where I was needed, and that’s still the case.
If you believe the words of Tenessee Williams that ageing is for the brave, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to very brave people. Basia, Teresa and Juliusz are creative every day. They find their passions in art; they fulfil their hidden desires, and choose art instead of medication for pain and anguish. Thanks to art, they feel free. They accept themselves, and their age. They cannot be pigeonholed. Despite various motivations, they courageously go out to meet others, and inspire them to find their own path.
Nina Woderska holds a PhD in social sciences in the field of pedagogy; she is a facilitator of volunteer and pro-senior activities. Thanks to the combination of work in the local government and non-governmental sectors, she is able to conduct comprehensive work for the intergenerational integration and social activation of older adults. She is the author of academic and popular science publications, a lecturer at the University of Wrocław in the field of Psychogerontology, and an EPALE Ambassador. She works with students, youth, seniors, corporate employees, or inmates. She is always looking for new inspirations and professional challenges.
1 N. Woderska, O bilansie życiowym i umiejętności ciągłego korygowania planów, https://epale.ec.europa.eu/pl/blog/o-bilansie-zyciowym-i-umiejetnosci-ciaglego-karzenia-planow (accessed: 09/06/2021).