Painting in Twilight: An Artist's Escape from Alzheimer's

Painting in Twilight: An Artist's Escape from Alzheimer's



those who love him who call him Bubba Papa less who knew the richness of his white oak heart before life's rings were laid can tell that this last picture is a song and they know why Leicester Potts came to painting late in life born in Alabama's Pickens County West of Tuscaloosa he was reared during the Great Depression he grew up laboring in the family sawmill and served in the Army during the Korean conflict he learned an iron work ethic and a suspicion of all idle endeavors but in his mid-70s Lester Potts fell under the grip of Alzheimer's a disease that clouded his mind and robbed him of his strength eventually his family could meet his needs no longer and he entered an adult daycare facility and then in the words of his son a miracle occurred a volunteer taught Lester Potts to paint watercolors and suddenly a part of him that had been missing for a long time resurfaced his son Daniel Potts was astounded a neurologist based in Tuscaloosa Daniel was struggling himself he felt he should have noticed his father symptoms earlier but when he saw these canvases and the change that came over his father Daniel was moved to creations of his own in only a few weeks he composed to dozens of poems meditating on his father's life and art these poems and many of Lester's paintings have been collected in a book called the broken jar the only paint brush he had held to that point was one which whitewashed fences painted barns or trim siding on a house Daniel Ponce writes in the books introduction what subsequently happened could be compared to wild flowers blossoming from a fallen log in the Pickens County woods beautiful florals inviting still lives breathtaking landscapes heartwarming Christmas scenes came home with him to the amazement of the family and were poignant Lee a broken man was given once again something for which to be proud dr. Andrew Duxbury a UAB geriatrician says art has the power to transform patients with Alzheimer's disease art is one of the most basic kind of impulses that human beings have there is an absolute need to create as soon as children learn to pick up crayons they are driven to draw pictures Duxbury says it is a way they can express what is going on in their minds when they don't have the language skills to express themselves verbally and the same thing is true for Alzheimer's patients they need to get their thoughts and feelings out in some way and art is a perfect vehicle the process of creating involves a lot of different parts of the brain and some of it is memory involved and some of it is emotionally involved and in a brain that are starting to have damage from Alzheimer's disease or another related dementia the artistic impulse is not usually damaged in that way but the pitiless March of Alzheimer's does not bypass the artistic sense forever over time the disease begins to influence everything from choice of subjects to color palettes this becomes especially obvious when you can compare the early and late works of artists who have struggled with Alzheimer's the Dutch abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning for example painted dark intricate canvases early in his career later his style became simpler his colors much more bold as the disease progresses however it eventually obliterates everything in its path one of the most striking examples of this degeneration comes from a much more obscure artist by the name of careless horn careless whore noses with magazine illustrator and he took annual vacations to Venice where he used to sketch and one of his favorite subjects for sketching was the Rialto Bridge in Venice and so we just happened to have many different views that he did over the years of that particular subject horns family had a history of Alzheimer's and he developed the disease relatively early in life starting when he was in his late 50s horn continued to travel with his family on its annual trips to Venice and he continued to sketch the Rialto Bridge but the changes in his artistic style were unmistakable if you look at Alzheimer's art in general these are very usual things that one sees there tends to be a choosing of very bright primary colors over more soft pastel or shades there is a loss of three dimensions in drawing for flatter two dimensions there is a more simplistic rendering of the world the tale goes away in the very late stages of the disease Duxbury says patients are usually no longer capable of communicating verbally and the only way they can express themselves is in terms of shapes or smears a single color such as horns red dominates the same pattern repeated itself in the paintings of Lester Potts but it eventually brought out heartbreaking new layers of meaning much like human life the early works were simplistic and primitive Daniel Potts writes the middle more refined and the latest paintings strangely rudimentary yet intriguing the last of all is also the plainest but speaks most truly of the man in his books final poem the crosscut saw Daniel Potts attempts to decode this final poignant message left behind as his father slipped away he spoke of it to me whenever two were needed for a task entails of pushing pulling giving taking teamwork between man and boy goaded little hands to help him strength innate to him was given meaning and a name across its blade whereas a son he'd first sensed power and endurance in his father's arms he wore me out on that old song was often said submissively like most sons he felt himself a lesser man and dad through murky mists he strains expectantly to see his father's face no longer there and feel the tug of steely arms which first embodied might when looking on the crosscut saw when notices a missing end perhaps his eyes misjudged and drew on to another page a scrap discarded like a stubby hardwood log yet of itself an artful work of hand in deepest spaces of the soul I know this theory won't suffice for amidst fragments of a broken mind longings of a wandering heart in comforts of a loving God the undone portion takes its shape a handle clasped by nail scarred palms familiar strong and true which can't be painted only felt in pushing pulling giving taking teamwork between friends so the saw remains its image speaking for the one whose severed sentences stack up like stumpy syllables upon a sawdust bed the sum of what it says is this strength labour trust family love and home

8 Comments

  • Nisha Halai says:

    Humanity needs Art and Creative Expression in all forms that bring joy and enable our tears to fall, not just selected groups of people with Alzheimers or those labelled with various mental health 'disorder' terms.

  • CowCountryVintageSewing MachinesAndRestoration says:

    God's gifts can be uncovered at any time, and newness of life can even be discovered near the end. The beauty comes from what follows, and the lasting impact these brush strokes have on those left behind……Thank you Mr. Potts

  • Richard Taylor says:

    Hello, thank for sharing your heart, your life, your talents, and the same for your Dad. I shall do my best to promote this effort of both you and your dad.

    Richard.

  • Daniel C. Potts says:

    Thank you for your comments!

  • Eric Kerl says:

    What a great story Thank you for sharing!

  • Sylvia Johnston says:

    Love and hope. Understanding. Compassion. Thanks. Thanks, Daniel and Dr. Duxbury. We are still in here.

  • Shane Hamilton says:

    is this Robert Downey Jr.?

  • Vicky Sabato says:

    i work with autistic children. i used to have a student who drew with the computer. his work was similar to some of the pieces here. i guess you could say he was on the opposite side of a similar spectrum. this was a sad but uplifting video.

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