“I’m a terrible artist.”
“Don’t look at mine.”
Gina Lee hears these statements over and over, from art students in their teens up to their 90s. But Gina doesn’t let those beliefs persist. She knows that with a few basic techniques and encouragement, we can all discover our inner artist.
For almost a year, Gina has been visiting Salina Presbyterian Manor once a month to guide our residents through an art project. She has a small, devoted core of regular members, and many others drop in to see what it’s all about, sometimes after seeing the latest creations on display in the resident gallery.
“Gina makes it fun and puts everyone at ease. We learn something new every time,” said resident Don Lloyd.
Don and the other art students can thank Chaplain Mary Bridges for bringing Gina to our community. Mary’s daughter used to work with Gina at South High School. Today, Gina teaches art at South Middle School. Last year, Mary asked Gina if she would offer a regular class at Presbyterian Manor.
“I was thrilled. I had gotten my certification so I could work with hospice,” Gina said.
Gina received her degree in art from Fort Hays State University and has taught middle and high school students for many years. But she has enjoyed working with older adults, ever since she was a child.
Growing up in a small western Kansas town, Gina became very close to the retired people in her neighborhood, especially one couple down the block. “It was nice to have them as ‘extra’ grandparents because my mother’s family lived really far away,” she said.
Gina and her parents would also visit people at the nursing home in Oakley every Sunday. They didn’t even have a relative living there. “We knew all the residents names. I would play piano for them,” she said. “I didn’t have an aversion to nursing or retirement homes. That’s where the fun people were. That was my parents’ attitude: we were going to visit our friends.”
Later, Gina was able to combine her experience with older adults and techniques she learned from teaching art to kids with special needs. She knows how to adapt her lessons for people with low vision or difficulty holding a paintbrush.
“I had to find projects that are not long and exhausting but that are still challenging. I hope I’ve done them justice,” Gina said. “I see very creative people who are excited to talk about what they’re doing.”
Her students say Gina does a great job of creating that excitement. Resident Perry Hunsley said he enjoys the class because Gina is “innovative, lively and pretty.” Kim Fair appreciates that Gina explains the projects thoroughly. “She follows each artist’s progress, always encouraging us to go in our own direction,” Kim said. “We all feel fortunate to have her expertise and support in expanding our horizons.”
It’s important to Gina that residents know they’re making real art. “I tell them this is a great way to get the brain thinking in a different way.”
Gina’s monthly Art Class is open to all residents. Take Don Lloyd’s advice and give it a try: “If you had her as a teacher in school, you wouldn’t play hooky — she is that much fun.”