Painting by Lesley Heathcote

Panel by
Lesley Heathcote

Painting by Robin T. Stronk

Panel by
Robin T. Stronk

Door panel by Caryn King

Panel by
Caryn King

WAG's Painted Door Panels Help Orient Patients

Painting by Carolyn Nelson

Panel by
Carolyn Nelson

An exhibition of 25 Door Panels, made for the residents' doors in the Dementia Unit of the Vermont Veterans' Home (VVH) in Bennington, is on display at Windham Art Gallery through March 1. A reception is planned for Friday, February 6, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. during Gallery Walk. At the exhibition's end, these panels will be permanently installed at VVH. Participating artists are gallery members Tim Allen, Jill Auerbach, Amy Boemig, Carolyn DiNicola-Fawley, Stuart Copans, Trudi Crites, Ralph DeAnna, Judy Hawkins, Lesley Heathcote, Meredith Ingersoll, Steven Meyer, Petria Mitchell, Carolyn Nelson, Scott Nelson, Marlene O'Connor, Matthew J. Peake Leonard Ragouzeos, Marjorie Sayer, Lori Schreiner, Robin T. Stronk, Susie Ulfelder, Lynn VanNatta and Susan Wadsworth, as well as invited artists Jason Alden and Caryn King.

This extraordinary project, funded by the Vermont Community Foundation and Merchants Bank Foundation, Inc., began over a year and half ago when Christina Cosgrove, program director of the Dementia Unit at VVH -- the only veterans' home in the state of Vermont -- contacted Pamela Mandell, coordinator of Windham Art Gallery, to see if artists might be interested in such a project. C-Wing, where the panels will be installed, is home to veterans living with memory loss. Cosgrove explained how she came up with the idea for the doors: "Some of the veterans would come up to the nurse's station and ask, 'What room am I in?' Staff would tell them the room number, but by the time they got down the hall, they no longer remembered it." Visual cues, Cosgrove said, will not only assist veterans with memory loss in finding their rooms but also, "with the help of talented Vermont artists, we could transform and bring life to their environment." C-Wing, she added, is secure, and residents do not get to leave it all that often, so "bringing art and color to their unit will greatly improve and brighten their lives."

Mandell and three WAG artists -- Leonard Ragouzeos, Steven Meyer, and Tim Allen -- made a trip to VVH to come up with ideas for the doors. They decided to use Dibond panels and acrylic paint, and drew up a list of Vermont images and objects from which participating artists could choose, including a snow-covered pinecone, a pig, a cow, a sheep, a maple leaf, and a covered bridge. Artists were eager to contribute their time, energy, and artistic abilities to the project. Ragouzeos also arranged for some of the doors to be shown at Thompson House, a nursing home in Brattleboro, on Wednesday, January 28, prior to the February exhibition at the gallery.

While VVH has been working to improve its energy efficiency (geothermal renovations are underway), Cosgrove and her colleagues have been working on enhancing the aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical approach to veterans living with dementia. They have been consulting with noted geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Susan Wehry and will also be adding colorful Vermont landscape photographs to the Dementia Unit. "Alzheimers' and other related dementias are devastating diseases. By the time these veterans come to live with us, they have often forgotten that they are forgetful," she said. When the VVH approached Windham Art Gallery, they were really looking at the big picture, Cosgrove said. "We thought, 'How can we make life worth living for these veterans with memory loss?' When they come to us, they can still experience, joy, friendship, and laughter. The arts play a significant role in enhancing their quality of life and can be a powerful vehicle in communicating with them."

If you don't have the chance to stop by WAG on Gallery Walk evening, visit during regular gallery hours: Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 5, or by appointment. For further information, contact Pamela Mandell at (802) 257-1881. Visit WAG online at

Copyright 2009, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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