How Art Benefits The Aging Mind

No matter what age we are, our brains have an unwaivering need to learn.

By Martina Sestakova

All kinds of things happen as one goes through life. After years of working in clinical trials recruitment and volunteering at an Alzheimer’s facility, I now teach art workshops at several retirement communities in the Rockville area. Having left one way to study the aging brain, I am now in midst of another opportunity: to learn how people in their 80s and 90s benefit from art classes.

Where to start … Art is so good for us. No matter what age. But … it’s is really good for us when our bodies and cognitive skills start changing beyond our control. I teach watercolor classes as the brush is easy to hold for a person post-stroke, with arthritis, or with Parkinson’s. We work within sketched templates, as decision making may be harder and coming up with inspiration for a new piece of art may be frazzling. We chat the class away because getting together is a way to connect, to feel relevant, and
to share stories of amazing life experiences.

And you know what is the best? No matter what age or physical state my students may be in, the human brain has an unwavering need to learn. The aging brain is, ultimately, curious.

Hence, I get a lot of people in my classes who have never done art. They come into the room, greet their fellow residents, and get to work. You should hear the comments. “I didn’t know I could do this!” or “Wow, that’s beautiful,” as a note to the person sitting next to them.

Painting from templates can help ease frustrations.

My oldest student was 99 years old at the time she took a class. Fabulously put together, with a walker decorated with little items of meaning, she sketched and sketched. “This looks awful. I love it,” she would announce.

Another student, also in mid-90s, after months of walking by the art room and refusing, yes, refusing to come in because “she didn’t know how to do it,” came in. She painted a colorful vase with tulips and teared up when she finished. Her first piece is now framed in her room. She has not missed a class and saves all of her pieces. These days she comes with a friend who repeatedly emphasizes, “I wouldn’t miss this.”

As I mentioned, art and making art with others is a way to feel alive
and to feed one’s curiosity. It’s not all pretty things though. The aging brain sometimes calls for a little nap in midst of a class. A student may need stop painting as her hand tires quickly. There are speech impediments that make it hard to ask for help or express an opinion. One may feel self-conscious about having to leave to take a bathroom break.

Art sessions afford opportunities to be social.

All in all, though, art classes at retirement communities are spaces of safety and care and relaxation. My students always want to help me clean up but an offer that always makes me smile is to “join them for the happy hour! We have great drinks!”

So, obviously, our lives change all the time, but if we keep our curious souls busy with art, we are good. And apparently this time of life may even come with a martini!

New Member Spotlight: Sandra Fretwell

Sandra Fretwell

Lives in: Germantown, MD
Instagram: @SandraFretwell

Media and subjects:  I mostly use acrylics. I love finding obscure items to add to create mixed media. My subjects range from single subject/object, to landscapes and “full scenes” to abstracts. Unless a specific idea hits me, I usually allow the canvas to tell me what is on it. Because every canvas is different, it allows for an endless range of subject matter.

Projects you’re currently working on: Right now I am working on a series  of paintings that are memories of a dream. I am continually surprised at how the Universe supports me. I go to my canvas, I add color where it shows up in the canvas, and when it is finished, it’s like a memory I had long forgotten or a dream I never consciously remember having. Familiar and yet not known. I have no idea where this is going to go but I am really enjoying the ride!

Why you joined MAA:  I joined MAA as a means to show my work to the community and to meet other artists in the area.

Something fun about you: I love almost all music but my secret music love affair is with the genres of music I grew up with at my grandparents’ house.  My current obsessions include Frank Sinatra, Etta James, Edith Piaf, Nina Simone, and Albert Collins.

Artist Biography

Art has always been an integral part of life for Sandra Fretwell.  Learning at an early age to express emotion through creation by watching her grandmother, mother and aunts all create beautiful things with their hands. Sewing; leather tooling, ceramics, yarn art and many other crafting expressions were a part of her daily life.  As Sandra grew up, she had ‘bursts’ of creative action, moments where art and creation became a compulsion. Once she realized she needed a serious outlet for this creative energy, she began taking art lessons with a spiritual artist named Running Bear in Marietta, GA. and then studied under renowned portrait artist, Antonia Krauss in Kennesaw, GA.

After moving to Maryland in 2015, Sandra had vivid and expressive dreams about her own artwork and had new ideas about where to go with it.  For the first time in her life, Sandra realized she was an artist.  Once this realization took hold, Sandra created a full time studio in her home.  She paints every chance she gets.  Since then Sandra has shown her work in several different venues including, in the Maryland Hall of Delegates in the state building in Annapolis, BlackRock Center for the Arts, and the Kentlands Mansion just to name a few. She has been accepted into many juried shows and in March 2019, won her first award at the Montgomery Village Arts, Craft and Photography show. Second place in the Professional Artist Mixed Media category.

Sandra hosts painting meditations once a month in her home. She also hosts Wise Woman Circles every full moon as part of a creative empowerment movement that encompasses both art and action.

Sell Art Cards & Prints at Book Festival

The weather was absolute perfection at last year’s festival.

As has been our custom, MAA will have a booth and tables set up for display and sale of greeting cards, small artwork and giclée prints at the Kensington Day of the Book Festival. The Festival will be held along Howard Avenue in Old Town Kensington, MD, on Sunday, April 28, 2019, from 11 am to 4 pm. The event is FREE and open to public. It will be held rain or shine.

Bring your display racks for cards, and bins for displaying prints. There is a bit of extra room in bins and card racks on hand. Pieces must have price, artist name, contact info.

It is generally very windy, and paintings on easels blow over! A book or literary subject is not required.

To participate, contact Vicky Surles at or (240-604-5377) and let her know what you would like to display and what times you can help at the booth. Shifts are in two-hour minimums.

Drop off artwork before the 28th (cards, prints, bins in a back room) at Kensington Row Bookshop, 3786 Howard Ave, Kensington, MD 20895 (301- 949-9416) Friday, April 26 through Saturday, April 27 from noon to 4pm. Pick up unsold works (and payment for sold works) in a back room at the Book shop: Saturday, May 4 from noon – 5:30 pm or as soon as possible.

So far, Vicky has recruited a couple of volunteers to help her work the booth. She needs other volunteers to work two-hour shifts. MAA volunteers will manage sales and MD tax; cash or check payment only. No commission will be taken. If you’d like to take credit card sales, please bring your own Square or PayPal reader to use with your phone.

Reasonable care and security will be provided by MAA volunteers. Neither MAA nor the Kensington Row Bookshop will be held responsible for loss or damage to artwork after dropping off, during the festival, and until picking up afterwards. Artists are advised to have their own insurance.

-Martina Sestakova

Professional Headshots Available for Members

Friday, March 22
10 am-2 pm
Gallery 209 in Rockville

As a special benefit to our members, we have arranged for professional photographer Gregory R. Staley to take your professional portrait at a vastly reduced price – just $25 per person.  If you’ve ever been photographed professionally, you know that photo shoots can cost hundreds of dollars, and we’re grateful to Greg – a friend of the DC arts community – for the reduced rate he’s providing to us.

The shoot will take place on Friday, March 22 from 10 am to 2 pm at Gallery 209 in Rockville. You must be an MAA member to participate.

Advanced sign up and payment are required; we have 32 slots available.

How to Sign Up

  1. Go to our Photoshoot Sign Up Page.
  2. Scroll down until you see the chart “Available Times.”
  3. Find your preferred time slot and click the little square next to “Sign up.”
  4. Click “Submit and Sign Up” at the bottom of the page.
  5. Fill in your name, email address and phone number.
  6. Click “Sign up now.”
  7. Immediately after signing up, send your $25 payment via PayPal by clicking here. Your spot is considered confirmed when payment is received. If you don’t use Paypal, please email us at to make alternate arrangements.

You’ll receive a confirmation email. You’ll receive a reminder the day before.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where are the portraits being taken?
At Gallery 209/Cathy Hirsh Classroom at Artists & Makers Studios 2, 12276 Wilkins Ave. in Rockville. Directions.

When should I arrive?
Please arrive 10 minutes before your scheduled appointment. We have scheduled 2-3 portraits during each 20-minute time slot.

What should I wear?
Here are some tips on how to dress and prepare:

  • Wear something you feel is flattering and makes you feel good – if you feel good, the photo will look good.
  • Consider wearing a blue shirt. A lot of people have been pleased with the results of their photo when they’re in blue.
  • If you choose to wear a tie or a necklace, choose a brightly colored one, to add a flattering pop of color near your face.
  • For those who use cosmetics: Your normal, everyday look is fine – no need to go heavier on makeup. If you don’t normally wear makeup but have some, we do suggest that you wear, in the very least, light foundation, powder and lip color.
  • Avoid black or white shirts unless you’re wearing a suit jacket, sweater or scarf over it. It tends to be too stark.
  • Don’t wear a shirt with an overly busy pattern or stripes. It can detract the viewer from the main attraction of the image – your face!
  • Don’t be concerned about what trousers/skirt you wear – it won’t appear in the photo.

Will I get to select my photo?
Yes. The photographer will show you the images he took on screen and you can select the one image you like the most. The photographer will do some very light editing – lighting adjustment, flyaway hairs, etc. Do not expect every freckle and wrinkle to magically disappear!

When will I receive my photo?
Greg will email you your headshot approximately one week after the shoot.

All of the slots are full. Is there a waiting list?
Yes. Please add your name to the waiting list and indicate your times of availability between 10 am and 2 pm. We will contact you if a spot opens up.

What if I need to cancel that morning?
Please call, text or email Elissa Poma at 202-309-5000 or If we are able to get someone to fill your spot, we will refund your payment. No shows will not be refunded.

Additional Questions? 
Please email Elissa Poma from MAA.

MAA at Art Enables: Participating Artists

From left to right: Blossom View by Pamela Gordimer; Intuition by Sarah Renzi Sanders; Flamenco Dancer by Christopher Hoppe; Rockville Skyline from Waterford by Joyce Koeneman

Thank you to the following 15 members, who are participating in the first MAA Show at Art Enables:

Heather Brugger , Doudgy Charmant, Jing-Jy Chen,  Roy Comiskey, Susan Crawford, Christopher Hoppe, Jonathan Jaeger, Joyce Koeneman, Judith Levine, Pamela Gordimer, Sarah Renzi Sanders, Joseph Reyes, Alan Rich, Maria Elena Sayan and Erick Soricelli.

We hope to see you at the opening reception on March 9 from 4-6 pm. The free event will provide the public with an opportunity to experience the artwork as well as mingle with the artists. Complimentary wine and light refreshments will be provided.

The gallery is at 2204 Rhode Island Ave. NE in Washington, DC. The show runs through May 9.


Discount Available for Art Business Conference

Members who wish to turn their art into a thriving business may want to register for The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists at the Art-Business Summit March 23-24. This event is March 23-24 at Artists & Makers Studios, 11810 Parklawn Dr.  in Rockville.

Among the topics to be covered:

  • How to maximize sales of your work

  • Critical marketing skills

  • How to find collectors

MAA members can receive a $50 discount by using the promo code ARTIST50 at registration. Register today, as space is limited. Details & Registration

Art Enables Show Registration Now Closed

We have hit our maximum capacity of 40 pieces of art for our first show at Art Enables in DC. Show registration is now closed. Thanks to all who have entered.

We look forward to seeing you at the show’s opening reception on Saturday, March 9 from 4-6 pm. The reception and show are in the Off-Rhode Gallery at 2204 Rhode Island Ave. NE, just south of DC’s Brookland neighborhood.

A Profile of Lois Mailou Jones

by Judith Levine

Photograph of the artist

I didn’t get to march in this year’s Wheaton Arts Parade, so I decided to share with you the artist I planned to honor . Lois Mailou Jones, an American treasure, was born November 3, 1905, in Boston and died on June 9, 1998, in Washington, DC.  Her parents noticed her love of art and she took classes from childhood on.

After completing high school, in 1927 Jones enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to study for her bachelor’s degree. She finished with honors and continued on to earn her MA in Textile Design. The school refused to hire the evidently qualified woman, “… telling her to find a job in the South where her people lived.” ( Kirschke,  Ater: Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance).

Recruited by James Vernon Herring in 1930, she joined the Howard University staff where she would teach until 1977.  She received a second BA, this time in Art Education in 1945 from Howard, graduating magna cum laude. Jones remained a voracious learner and took numerous classes her entire life.

Les Fétiches, 1938 –Paris (at left); Jennie, 1943

Jones took a sabbatical year in 1937 to attend the Académie Julian, and fell in love with France. “Paris really gave me my freedom. I forgot my color. I forgot that I was black,” she told Bart Barnes of The Washington Post.

She began to do plein aire during this time. Indeed, she returned to France in 1953 to marry noted Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël. They would split their time between Haiti and Washington for the rest of their lives. Given her lively curiosity, after her marriage Jones began to explore and paint Haitian culture and its people. It was also when her paintings began to shift from a representational style to a far more expressionistic style. This would shift even further into abstractionism after two extensive research tours of Africa in the late ’60s and early ’70s saw her work take on a stronger African influence.

“Mine is a quiet exploration—a quest for new meanings in color, texture and design. Even though I sometimes portray scenes of poor and struggling people, it is a great joy to paint.” This is how Jones spoke of her painting.  Her earliest works were in quiet colors but even then she showed an interest in African arts and images.

Les Fétiches, currently owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, was completed during her first visit to France. The beginning of her eventual move into abstraction is already evident.  She continued to work in a representational style but her turn to stronger colors can be seen in the way her model Jennie is dressed in a 1943 painting after her move to Washington.

From left Water Carriers, Haiti 1985; Fabric Vendors, 1961; Dahomey, 1971

After her marriage 1953, Jones and Pierre-Noël began to spend time in Haiti and the artist immersed herself in the island’s vibrant culture. Her use of colors reflects the island and its people which, in turn reflect the African origins of much of the population. By the time Jones made her two extensive African trips, her paintings began to move into an even more abstract vision.

Ubi Girl from Tai Region, 1972; Study for a Mask, 1994

True to herself, Jones never stopped exploring, growing and evolving. She became a mentor to many of her students because she constantly encouraged individual growth. Lois Mailou Jones had been described as a late Harlem Renaissance artist, a great Black Artist, and a great woman artist. In my estimation, she is simply a great artist.

Announcing the 2018 Paint the Town Labor Day Show Winners

Kensington Station by Jennifer Beaudet

Congratulations to the winners of our 2018 Paint the Town Labor Day Show:

Kensington Category
First Place ~ The Bertha Clum Award:  Jennifer Beaudet ~ “Kensington Station” (shown above)
Second Place ~ Lis Zadravec ~ “Last Time at Warner Park Circle”
Third Place ~ Antonia Tiu ~ “Wired for Power”
Honorable Mention ~ Lily Kak ~ “Kensington Crystal”
Honorable Mention ~ Diana Medina ~ “Kensington Train”
Honorable Mention ~ Karen Merkin ~ “Kensington Car Show”
Honorable Mention ~ Evan Goldman ~ “Fresh Tomatoes”
Honorable Mention ~ Ricky Sears ~ “Mario’s”

Montgomery County Fair by Jennifer Beaudet

First Place ~ Jennifer Beaudet ~ “Montgomery County Fair”
Second Place ~ Jan Rowland ~ “In the Heat of the City”
Third Place ~ Debra Halprin ~ “Tulipmania”
Honorable Mention ~ Maria Quezada ~ “Water Lilies”
Honorable Mention ~ Diana Medina ~ “City in the Valley”
Honorable Mention ~ Terry Pellmar ~ “Dusk”

Mary Beth by Laura Aikman

Portrait, People and Animals
First Place ~ Laura Aikman ~ “Mary Beth”
Second Place ~ Doudgy Charmant ~ “Stolen Innocence”
Third Place ~ Vicky Surles ~ “Portrait of Terry Ryle”
Honorable Mention ~ Alan Rich ~ “Gretta”
Honorable Mention ~ Ann Gordon ~ “Portrait”
Honorable Mention ~ Carol Leo ~ “Mr. and Mrs.”

Radishes by Debra Halprin

Still Life
First Place ~ Debra Halprin ~ “Radishes”
Second Place ~ Pinghsian Chen ~ “Orchid”
Third Place ~ Ernest Walker ~ “Oyster”
Honorable Mention ~ Pat Coates ~ “Glad Tidings”
Honorable Mention ~ Debbie Miller  ~ “Sitting Pretty”
Honorable Mention ~ Angela Lacy ~ “City Moment”

New Beginning by Doudgy Charmant

First Place ~ Doudgy Charmant~ “New Beginning”
Second Place ~ Geri Olson ~ “Everywhere”
Third Place ~ Anastasia Walsh~ “Bolla di Pensiero”
Honorable Mention ~ Jonathan Jaeger ~ “Screaming Out”
Honorable Mention ~ Jeanne Sullivan ~ “Traveler’s Symphony”
Honorable Mention ~ Jeffrey Human ~ “The Memory”

Caught a Whopper! by Barrie Ripin


3D Sculpture
First Place ~ Barrie Ripin ~ “Caught a Whopper!”
Second Place ~ James Vissari ~ “Serenity”
Third Place ~ Anastasia Walsh~ “View of Sardinian Valley”
Honorable Mention ~ Elizabeth Steel ~ “Mardi Gras 3”

Bonjour by Glen Kessler

Invitational Winner
Glen Kessler ~ “Bonjour”

Car in Front of Fountain by Leonardo Ramos

Plein Air Competition Winners 

First Place ~ Leonardo Ramos ~ “Car in Front of Fountain”
Second Place ~ Carol Leo ~ “Victorian with Foliage”
Third Place ~ Lynn Lewis ~ “Watermelon II”
Honorable Mention ~ Debbie Miller ~ “Fragrance of Summer Wine”
Honorable Mention ~ Meredith Morris ~ “Other Side of the Tracks”
Honorable Mention ~ Cathy Abramson ~ “Ready to Eat”