Last fall, Gorham House director Donna Davis walked through the senior living complex plucking dozens of old folding chairs from meeting spaces as part of a repurposing project she had in mind.
The decades-old metal chairs had long since taken a back seat to the newer, padded models that were preferred by residents and their guests. So, Davis was happy to hand them off to Gorham High School.
Last week, the school returned 19 of the old chairs – but only after elevating them to the status of “Best Seats in the House.”
The chairs spent several months in the hands of Gorham High School art students, who transformed them into functional works of fine art.
The project, patterned after a similar model offered in Rockland last year, asked art students to use the chairs as their canvas to reinterpret the paintings of famous artists.
Davis connected with Gorham High School art teacher Sarah Dolly to propose the project that also doubled as classwork.
Students were asked to select a famous painter whose creations inspired them and write a biography detailing that artist’s history and work. Then students were asked to re-interpret one of those works, using the chairs’ seats and backrests to re-create the painting. Accompanying biographies on the artist and the selected work were applied to the backs of the chairs to provide a point of reference for future viewers.
Gorham House also provided the paint and art supplies to realize the project.
No longer relegated to overflow seating, the old chairs are now one-of-a-kind works of art that will be prominently featured around the Gorham House complex. The complex includes sections for independent and assisted living and areas for rehabilitation, nursing home and memory care.
Davis said the returned seats included re-interpretations of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World,” Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” American contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey’s “Make Art Not War,” a Picasso and a few Monets, to name just a few.
While viewing some of the familiar works in progress last fall, Davis happened upon the likeness of Norwegian expressionist artist Edvard Munch’s famous “The Scream.”
The image immediately invoked a response in Davis, who commented to Caitlyn Duffy, the young artist who painted it, “This reminds me of how our Alzheimer residents must feel.”
Duffy agreed, adding, “I am the daughter of Sharlene Duffy (a longtime nurse at Gorham House). I have been volunteering there since I was a kid.”
Davis said that exchange was a defining moment that helped to underscore that the effort was more than a recycling or art project. Rather, it serves as a way to create points of recognition, appreciation and connectivity among those who view the art.
Sharlene Duffy said she was “blown away” by the thought process driving Caitlyn’s decision to select Munch’s famous work.
A 15-year-old sophomore, Caitlyn has been regularly visiting with nursing home and memory care residents at Gorham House since she was age 4 and has witnessed the horrible progression of what some Alzheimer patients face.
“I selected Munch’s work because it conveys a lot of emotion,” said Caitlyn. “‘The Scream’ really resonates with me about what happens to people who have Alzheimer’s disease. It is symbolic of how they can sometimes be confused, emotional and overwhelmed by what is happening to them.”
Last week, the chairs were presented at a special reception attended by Gorham House and school officials, parents, students and residents.
Each student stood behind the chair they created and shared a bit about the project and what it meant to them before venturing into the audience to speak with guests.
The newly painted chairs likely will still go unused for future seating purposes. Largely because visitors and residents alike are too busy admiring them.
Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: