The working man’s hands: art giving purpose to aged care residents in Kyneton

A unique art project at Bupa Aged Care Kyneton is helping residents reconnect with their pasts, rediscover their love of art and connect with the community. 

When great grandfather Charlie Vosper picks up a paintbrush, he’s transported back to a moment in history.

Whether it was his time on Philip Island studying birds, working the railways around Kyneton, working the land on a dairy farm or painting with his children.

“I’ve had my hands dirty all my life,” the 81-year-old says.

Those hard-working hands are being immortalised as part of the Kyneton Contemporary Art Triennial (KCAT2018) – an exhibition of artwork which will be proudly displayed at sites around Kyneton.

Artist Georgie Mattingley has been working with Charlie and other residents at the Bupa Aged Care home in Kyneton for the last few months, learning about their histories and working together to turn their stories into artistic masterpieces.

“Sometimes I feel like a huge amount of knowledge about the world gets lost when a generation passes. Everything moves so fast today that I think we’ve forgotten how to sit and listen to our elders. I’m learning from them just as much as they’re learning from me,” she says.

Georgie combines symbolic photographs from the past and present to tell the residents' stories, and together they use paint to add life, colour and warmth.

“I’ve got a lot to thank Georgie for,” says Charlie, “She’s interested in the stories I tell and I’m interested in her type of work too. I’ve learnt a lot from Georgie like mixing colours.”

The project has re-invigorated Charlie’s love for art. He’s now back to drawing and painting, his sketchbook always by his bed.

“It’s bringing back memories to me. I do a lot of free hand of things that I was very interested in and it is bringing back memories,” he says.

The artwork they’ve created together depicts Charlie’s strong and weathered hands lifting up out of a landscape.

“It’s reaching out of what I’ve done over the years and all my working life. I’ve never been out of work one day,” he says.

Bupa Kyneton Lifestyle Coordinator Janine Hilder says these sorts of activities can have a powerful impact on residents.

“Art is so powerful for people living in aged care as it's a means of self-expression when speech, memory or other functions may be impaired. It is a way of releasing emotions, conveying feelings or enjoying sensory pleasure," she says. 

"It's something that can be done alone or in a group and it can break down boundaries. I think it is a great therapeutic tool and as an artist myself I know of its importance in providing a ‘sense of self’."

Once finished, the artworks will be blown up and displayed around Kyneton, Charlie’s will be situated at the Kyneton Train Station in the goods shed, a nod to his time working on the rails.

“I like to imagine that as people walk around town and take in these images they’re a gateway to a point in time in the past, when these places were alive with manual labour or alive with industry,” Georgie says.

“I want it to work kind of like a ghost trail around town. I want people to stop, think about Kyneton, where it’s come from, the generation that actually built Kyneton to be what it is today and to learn about stories that they might not have otherwise heard.”

That’s something the residents are pretty excited about too.

“She could sort of put us on the map a bit I think! I’m all for it,” says Charlie.

The art program is one of many activities on offer at Bupa Kyneton. The lifestyle team also organises craft, sing-a-longs, exercise classes, literature and poetry groups, pet therapy, happy hour, church services, musical performances, outings to the movies or shopping, and much more.

“It’s important for residents to participate in a variety of activities to foster their social engagement and to promote their wellbeing and happiness,” says Janine.

The KCAT2018 art exhibition will be on display from April 14 to April 22.

Kyneton Contemporary Inc. gratefully acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government and Public Record Office Victoria for making this project possible.

Charlie and Georgie's story is also set to feature in a beautiful video series by the Australian Council for the Arts, highlighting the important role the arts play in the wellbeing and connectedness of communities. It follows the results of the National Arts Participation Survey which found that the arts have a place in the daily lives of 98 per cent of Australians.

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