Photo by Lyn Berry
Artist’s brush becomes Escondido man’s voice following
By Lyn Berry | Special to Today’s Local News
Saturday, September, 2008
Struggling to communicate
with words may send octogenarian John Serrau
into a temporary emotional tailspin, but give the man a brush and color
and he speaks volumes.
Serrau, who lives at Aegis of Escondido, suffered a stroke in December
2006, eight days after his wife died of complications from Alzheimer’s
The resulting brain damage
left him unable to speak clearly, but thanks to the efforts of his health
care coordinator and a dedicated art therapist, he communicates through
Although he had never picked
up a brush until a little more than a year ago, he has produced more
than 20 paintings since he began working with Linda Bounds, founder
of the art therapy program Leaps and Bounds.
Serrau, who turned 85 on
Monday, will display some of his work in combination with a birthday
celebration at Aegis of Escondido from 1 to 3 p.m. today.
A highlight of the show
will be his painting of an elephant inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s
“The Starry Night.” “When he saw ‘Starry Night,’
he fell in love with it,” Bounds
said. “He was sketching an elephant, and he brought van Gogh’s
palette into his elephant painting. It’s amazing.” Orders
for prints of the elephant painting will be taken at the event, with
profits benefiting Leaps and Bounds.
Serrau’s stroke recovery
program is guided by health care coordinator Jana Zrake, who had worked
with Serrau’s wife for a year and a half before her death. When
Serrau’s stroke followed so soon after, Zrake stepped naturally
into the role of working with him.
“I used to draw little
pictures with him, and it would make him laugh,” Zrake said. “Then
he would draw some incredible pictures, too, and that’s when I
remembered the work that Linda Bounds does. She agreed to work with
John and the progress has been miraculous.
“He had never painted
before, and he just keeps getting better and better. When Linda shows
his art to other residents as they walk down the hallway, his shoulders
go back and he’s standing taller. He feels like somebody again.”
Bounds, whose LEAPS program
is an acronym for Lovingly Energetic Art Programs for Seniors, agrees.
“In the last year
and a half, I have seen an individual who has lost his ability to communicate,
who doesn’t always have the words he wants, become someone who
is outgoing, demonstrative and expressive,” Bounds said.
“He works from photos
or magazine pictures and does incredible work. We have such a heart
connection, and he knows he’s doing something extraordinary.”
Zrake, who runs her own
company called Pacific Personal Affairs Management, believes Serrau
is an excellent example of hope for victims of strokes and Alzheimer’s
and their families.
“I don’t ever
want families to give up hope,” she said. “The patients
still have part of the person they used to be inside. It is up to us
as the healthy ones to find the connection.”
Zrake said Serrau is a
man with a tremendous background in early television who traveled to
some 200 countries in his lifetime. With his stroke, she said, he had
“become beaten down, but now he has pride.”
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Painting classes help restore color to the lives of memory-impaired
By Caroline Dipping
July 10, 2004
Ena Cooper loved to paint,
write, garden and play the piano. At family gatherings, she was a magnet.
But Cooper slowly began
fading away, leaving an almost silent shell.
The tide of Cooper's long
descent into dementia turned a year ago when her daughter, Shoshanah
Tov, found an art class for Alzheimer's patients called Leaps &
Bounds. Despite her mother's feeble protestations, Tov enrolled her
in the class, taught by volunteer Linda Bounds.
"She hadn't picked
up a paintbrush in years," Tov said of her mother. "Everything
had gone away by the time we got to Linda."
When Cooper first met Bounds,
she avoided eye contact and stared out the window. When Bounds asked
her if she wanted to paint, Cooper mumbled, "I don't know,"
her daughter remembered.
Within a couple of sessions,
Bounds, with her enthusiastic encouragement, had Cooper painting like
an impressionist master, daubing a little yellow ochre here, a little
red cadmium there. Over the months, colorful oil paintings came to life.
And to a degree, so did Cooper.
"She was improving,
which is a crazy thing to say with Alzheimer's," said Tov, noting
that her mother was more talkative than she had been in years. "She
was more aware. She had a sense of humor again. You could see more bits
On days when Bounds asked
Cooper if she was too tired to paint, the reply came firmly, "No,
no. I don't want to stop."
The idea for Leaps &
Bounds was born in 2000, the year Bounds began painting a new self-portrait.
She quit her 15-year career as a high school guidance counselor and
went through a divorce she never saw coming. This mother of two 20-something
children faced a clean canvas.
She decided to teach oil
painting. There were watercolor and pastel classes around town, but
nobody seemed to be teaching oil painting. Bounds knew she could fill
the void with her art background that spanned more than 25 years.
After talking with a friend
who is a social worker at an adult rehabilitation center in East County,
Bounds decided to teach seniors. She found herself saying, "Let
me see if I can make these people's lives a little bit better."
She bought her own supplies
and donated her time. Four years later, Bounds still donates her time,
but the assisted living facilities pay for supplies.
Bounds teaches memory-impaired
seniors at several places around the county, including assisted living
centers in Carlsbad, La Jolla and Rancho Peñasquitos. In addition
to her volunteer work, Bounds has paying clients – people with
disabilities, troubled youth and seniors – at her art studio in
Painting has worked wonders
for Marcia Buchalter's 91-year-old mother, Charlotte.
"When you let someone
stagnate, when you let them sit around with not much to do, they spiral
down very, very, very quickly," Marcia Buchalter said. "It
(Leaps & Bounds) gives my mother a way to express herself. She doesn't
have that vacant look in her eyes. She is focused and concentrating.
She becomes very alive."
And her mother adores Bounds,
Buchalter said. "She would do anything for her. Linda connects
with her on a level I don't understand."
Watching Bounds paint with
10 women at The Arbors Assisted Living center in Rancho Peñasquitos,
it is easy to see how she inspires her students to get into the spirit
of Monet or Gauguin, even on days when they are tired or don't feel
Bounds held up a canvas
with yellow and blue triangular splotches and asked her students to
guess what the painting would be in the end. "A mountain,"
one woman offered from her wheelchair. "A pyramid," another
The splotches were the
beginning of a village scene from a work by Monet, Bounds explained
as she displayed a color photograph of the completed work. The women
will take turns adding to the painting for two or three months, referring
to the picture for guidance.
Two by two, they came to
the canvas, Bounds crouched between them to offer instruction and praise.
"Tell your brain to
go from here to here," she told Lilli Collins as Collins hesitantly
placed her brush midair in front of the canvas.
"Oh, it's going to
get wilder before it gets better," Bounds said to the class. She
often has to prod her students to put brush to canvas, especially those
who are new to the class and new to painting.
"There is no such
thing as a mistake," Bounds said, reciting her familiar mantra.
"I'm going to show you that not only can you not make a mistake,
you will use it to your advantage."
Ninety-year-old Ruth Goldfarb
studied art at the New York Academy of Design and modeled for other
artists in the 1930s. But during the past 15 years, as the demands of
caring for her ailing husband and her own failing health took precedence,
her art fell by the wayside. Her three children noted the depression,
health problems and lack of interest in daily activities.
This year, Goldfarb began
art classes at the Jacob Health Care Center in East San Diego where
she lives. Recently, at Leaps & Bounds' first public exhibition
at Bounds' downtown studio, nearly a dozen of her paintings were on
display. While much of their time is spent copying the works of famous
painters, some of Bounds' students create original pieces of art.
Stephen Goldfarb, Ruth's
son and a clinical psychologist, said Leaps & Bounds gives his mother
something meaningful to look forward to.
"Her thoughts often
had to do with her imminent passing away and that her life was basically
in the past and over for her," he said.
Bounds changed all that.
"I see a brightening
of her outlook and a real genuine interest in the work she is doing,"
he said of his mother.
She doesn't remember what
happens from session to session, he said, but she always remembers Bounds
and speaks glowingly of her technique.
love for the people she works with is really what creates the atmosphere
that allows all this to work," Goldfarb said. "That is so
critically important for this patient population."
Bounds forms deep attachments
with her students, calling them her children, her parents, her family
all rolled into one. Over the years, she has had to cope with many deaths.
"When I got into this,
it didn't occur to me that people were going to die on me. I was just
going to go keep people company," Bounds said.
"I've said a lot of
goodbyes. But I don't feel they ever leave me. I feel my room is full.
They are all here, cheering me on. I am very grateful."
Ena Cooper passed away
in May, six days shy of her 88th birthday. She had a stroke while painting
in Bounds' class and died four days later.
"The end could have
been so horrible, but honestly, it wasn't horrible," Shoshanah
Tov said, reflecting on her mother's last year of life. "Finding
Linda just made all the difference. Linda gave her so much love."
Caroline Dipping is a Union-Tribune news assistant.
2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
The ART of healing
Following a dream has become a give-and-take reality
for instructor and her students
San Diego, Calif.: Jul 8,
2001. pg. E.1
It's a bright Monday morning and Mary Lou Aldridich is having a great
day. This is no small thing, because many of her days are dark as she
tries to squint through a thick Alzheimer's haze.
83-year-old's eyes twinkle like stars above the landscape she's painted
and she almost sings aloud.
so fun I can feel the earth. It's just the way I feel," Aldridich
says, smiling. Her art instructor, Linda Bounds, quickly joins in:
Go with it!"
peers through her hand to narrow her focus on the canvas.
the line going. Don't stop," Bounds encourages.
Yes. I see it. Yes," Aldridich says, her voice now as sure and
firm as her grip on the brush. Both women seem to be holding their breath
until the brush stops.
When it does,
Aldridich relaxes and reaches up to take Bounds' hand that's resting
on her shoulder.
you for understanding and being with me," Aldridich says. "I
know you know how much this means to me, but I wanted to tell you. You're
like an angel to me."
is a former guidance counselor at Lakeside's El Capitan High School
who, with her kids grown and her marriage ended, decided to devote herself
to a lifelong dream of being an artist and using her art to heal.
In this past
leap-of-faith year, Bounds has started art programs at two El Cajon
residential facilities and formed a nonprofit organization, L.E.A.P.S.
and Bounds (Lovingly-Energetic Artistic Programs for Seniors). L.E.A.P.S.
will receive its first grant this week when Performa, a Cleveland, Ohio,
corporation, meets in San Diego.
I had been so sad for myself," she says. "When I walked into
the physical pain of those individuals (at a senior facility) I realized
I had found my venue," she said.
I could help heal their lives, it would be healing for me as well."
Room to dream
for her students may come from her own feeling of living in a haze for
too long. Until the past year, her life was too busy to do more than
notice a nagging sense of loss.
the perfect wife, putting everything before myself," says the Chula
Vista native. "It was the worst thing for my marriage, for my children
and above all myself."
divorce, she was counseled by family and friends to invest her half
of the sale of her Pine Valley home in the security of another house.
But security wasn't what she had in mind. Living and supporting herself
as an artist was a fantasy that she could now almost touch. Content
to live in a trailer, she leased a small art studio in downtown San
of her own made her feel so good, she would just sit on the floor and
"smell the air."
dreaming for the first time. The first time in a long time about what
I was going to be," Bounds says.
always came back to helping seniors, and when she visited SunBridge
Care and Rehabilitation in El Cajon, she was overwhelmed at the sight
of so many older people in wheelchairs. She also was surprised to find
younger disabled people there. She knew she wanted to help.
in the car and cried," she says. "I was happy and sad at the
volunteering to teach painting classes at SunBridge and later Parkside
Special Care Center, funding all painting supplies out of her own pocket.
When the classes started a year ago, none of the students knew each
other. Now the new friends joke and laugh together while showing encouragement
and concern for each other.
could barely give me a name for their favorite color when we first started,"
Bounds says. Neither could they answer any creative questions about
food or music. They were at a loss for words. Now they talk about those
things all the time.
At 35, Bridget
Payne, who has spina bifida, is one of the younger members at the center.
She has had, by her own admission, an understandably negative attitude
most of her life.
director Minnie Groel says Payne used to mostly watch TV or listen to
music or write in her room. Her health was up and down and she stopped
getting out of bed, at least until last spring when Bounds arrived.
The art teacher
set up a special bedside table easel for Payne and repeated her often-heard
mantra: "You cannot make a mistake."
opened doors for me, helping express myself more," Payne says.
"I could get my aggressions on canvas. Bring out my emotions. I
have a better positive attitude; I'm letting go of the past."
When a six-month
pilot program Bounds developed was finished, the seven-member class
had its first show, complete with artists reception.
so emotional," Payne says. "One woman absolutely lost it.
She was in tears. Seeing her reaction, seeing her emotionally charged
made me emotionally charged. It was quite overwhelming."
Bounds with bringing out the creativity in people, even those who have
never done art.
gives herself 100 percent," says Groel. "And she's very patient,
and that's not always easy."
Now in the
second phase of the program, Payne has branched out from painting in
a primitive "Grandma Moses" fashion to mastering a colorful
pulls Payne's wheelchair back to get a better view of her work, teacher
and student wordlessly reach for each other's hands at the very sight.
Linda I would have forgotten about art," Payne says. "There's
another world out there. She brought us that world."
at Parkside Special Care Center, which specializes in residents with
dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. But the power of art has proved
just as potent.
good/bad days really fluctuate," says Traci Gandy, who worked with
Bounds at SunBridge and brought her to Parkside when she became director
of residents and family services there.
great when they're having a good day to be doing what they like to do
best. They're happier if nothing else.
these experiences they are able to recall something that is second nature
to them. It's one less frustration, something they can connect with."
learning new skills herself teaching at the two diverse centers. She
has hooked up with the Alzheimer's Association's art therapy program,
"Memories in the Making," and is teaching one of its classes
Early in the
disease it's hard making a connection when people feel they're losing
connection, according to Joni Bosky, program coordinator of "Memories
in the Making."
"Art is therapy," Bosky says. "It taps into the same
qualities of the heart and emotions, getting ourselves out on paper
in a tangible way."
On her bad
days, Mary Lou Aldridich's doesn't know a landscape from a smudge on
a canvas. But Aldridich knew that Monday morning what she felt. And
that wasn't just paint on her brush, it was passion. And she was having
a great day.
and Bounds can be reached at (619) 233-8123.
2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.