Photo by Whitewood Gardens

By Kris McDowell

Like many residential care facilities in Portland and across the US, the residents at Whitewood Gardens have been quarantined in their rooms to keep them safe.

It’s a situation that presents the dual challenges of keeping them connected to one another and providing activities to keep them creatively occupied.

Life Enrichment Director Chris Nelson is meeting that challenge by engaging their residents with an ongoing, collaborative art project.

Nelson said he came up with the idea to take large black and white depictions of art masterworks by Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet and others and segment them into several sections one morning when he walked past a half-completed jigsaw puzzle.

“It occurred to me that I could segment an artwork kind of like a puzzle, he said. “That way, I could distribute the individual pieces to the residents in their rooms, have them color them and them reassemble them after the residents completed their portions.”

Photo by Whitewood Gardens

After locating a book of art masterpieces that had all the colors extracted, he went to a copy shop to have them blown up and the project was “off and running.”

SE Portland’s Whitewood Gardens has been in business since 2013 and is home to approximately 40 residents.

“I am always thinking of ways during this period of isolation that our residents can connect with each other and the larger community,” Nelson said,

Many of the pieces that have been created have been framed and hung in their community. They are interested in donating pieces to senior centers, libraries and other public spaces in SE Portland.

Resident Lois says, “I like the art project because it gives me something creative to do during this quarantine time. The best part is knowing that others are working on it too, and the surprise of seeing the final result.”

Fellow resident Jo-Jo is appreciative of the mental boost the project provides saying, “Art keeps my mind going.”

Hortencia applauds another benefit, “It helps me relax. It’s nice to see the good work we have accomplished together.”

Nelson has also facilitated a project of making thank you cards for essential workers, with encouraging words and art. He then delivers to them stores, clinics and fire/police departments.

A wisdom board periodically posted on Whitewood’s Facebook page displays residents’ personal philosophies and insights.

In this time of isolation, Whitewood Gardens’ projects show there are creative, beautiful ways to stay connected.