Watercolor class offers respite for Boston Home residents

Boston Home residents enjoyed live jazz in the garden during the art show last Thursday. Daniel Sheehan photo

An art show and auction hosted by The Boston Home last Thursday offered residents the chance to show off painting skills they have honed in recent months through a watercolor class taught on site. The art class is one of the most popular and successful programs at the Dorchester Avenue facility, which serves as home to nearly 100 adults with multiple sclerosis and other advanced neurological diseases.

In the building’s back garden on Thursday, residents perused an impressive art display while enjoying live jazz from the Jeff Williams Trio throughout the event, which marked the launch of a new online art gallery that will allow community members to view and support the artists’ work in a virtual format. 

Vicki Stevens, the Boston Home’s philanthropy coordinator, explained that all artwork sold will provide direct financial support to the artists themselves.

“All proceeds are going to the individual artists. We’re just the facilitators,” said Stevens. 

In addition to affirming their artistic endeavors, art sales give residents —most of whom are covered by Medicaid— a way to supplement their limited personal income.

Lisa Spacco-Pearlstein, a Dorchester native who has taught the watercolor class at the Boston Home for the last three years, said constructive activities like painting have become even more crucial for residents during the last several months of the pandemic.

“They love it. It’s definitely a creative outlet for them, which they need, especially right now in these trying times,” said Spacco-Pearlstein.

IMG_0222.jpgResident Lynne Katz (left) posed with art teacher Lisa Spacco-Pearlstein and one of Katz' watercolor paintings.

With COVID-19 prevention protocols barring most outside visitors from the facility, Boston Home residents have been forced to sacrifice some of their independence. The isolating circumstances have been frustrating for many residents, but a regular art class gives them a “sense of purpose,” said Spacco-Pearlstein.

“The big thing is that the artwork is theirs, it’s something they can point to and be proud of,” she said. “They really enjoy the challenge of struggling to improve and making their work better, which I think we can all relate to.”

The facility’s watercolors course is made possible in part by some creative technological troubleshooting. For Boston Home residents, many of whom suffer from paralysis or partial paralysis in their hands, manipulating a paintbrush is sometimes a challenge. Corinne Curran, another “OFDer” who serves as adaptive technologist at the center, uses a 3D printer to make custom parts that make it easier for residents to grip a paintbrush, or alternatively, to hold a brush in their mouths while painting. 

“By making our own parts here, it’s usually cheaper and it’s helpful because they can be made specific for each person,” explained Curran. 

IMG_0223.jpgAdaptive technologist Corinne Curran showed off a custom 3-D printed paintbrush holder.

For Stevens, that personalized approach sets the center apart in its capacity to cater to resident’s individual needs.

“I think what’s unique here is we have the art program onsite, we have physical therapists onsite, we have the enhancement center onsite. Everybody talks to each other and knows exactly what each person is struggling with and how we can help them.”

One resident who has benefitted from the painting program is Lynne Katz, a former sculptor who has found a new artistic passion in watercolor art. Katz had several pieces of art on display at the auction and online —one of which has already been sold— but insisted the money was far less important than the creative outlet the art class offers her.

“I just like to be creative,” she said.

For Spacco-Pearlstein, teaching the class and seeing her students push themselves to reach their artistic goals has its own rewards.

“It’s inspiring. They inspire me every day.”