101-Year-Old Artist Defies Age To Pursue Artistic Passions (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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101-Year-Old Artist Defies Age To Pursue Artistic Passions

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and, this week, our theme is "Coming of Age." Earlier in the hour, we heard about some very particular growing pains in D.C.'s rapidly expanding restaurant scene, and we learned how Tacoma Park is giving teens a jump start on adulthood by lowering the voting age. But, up next, in today's "Coming of Age" show, you know that saying about how it isn't the years in your life that count, but rather, the life in your years? Well...

MS. KATHLEEN WILLIAMS

00:00:36
How do you do?

SHEIR

00:00:36
How do you do? Nice to meet you. I recently met a woman in Maryland who fits that sentiment to a T. Can you introduce yourself and tell us who you are?

WILLIAMS

00:00:46
Say that again.

SHEIR

00:00:47
Can you introduce yourself?

WILLIAMS

00:00:49
Oh, introduce myself. Well, I'm old.

SHEIR

00:00:56
This is Kathleen Williams.

WILLIAMS

00:00:58
Very old.

SHEIR

00:01:00
And, indeed, the native Briton is 101. But honestly, as she sits in the dining room of her Chevy Chase home, her bright eyes flashing, her silver hair elegantly styled, you'd never know she's a centenarian. I mean, obviously, she has trouble hearing, seeing too.

WILLIAMS

00:01:15
I can see the big form, not the detail.

SHEIR

00:01:20
But none of that has stopped Kathleen from returning to her biggest passion from long before she was, in her words, very old.

WILLIAMS

00:01:28
I'm blind and deaf. I'm very old.

SHEIR

00:01:33
And that passion is art.

WILLIAMS

00:01:35
I've always been an artist, done something in the art world.

SHEIR

00:01:42
Kathleen began drawing as young girl in North Hamptonshire.

WILLIAMS

00:01:45
I've always drawn. That is a great pleasure.

SHEIR

00:01:49
She eventually enrolled in art school in London, and after moving to the D.C. area in 1951, she spent decades teaching art in D.C. public schools, and selling her intricate macramé jewelry at the Torpedo Factory in old town Alexandria.

WILLIAMS

00:02:02
At least 30 years selling things.

SHEIR

00:02:06
Her cozy house and elaborate backyard garden feature much of her sculpture. Many of her pieces have appeared in galleries and museums, including the Corcoran and Smithsonian.

WILLIAMS

00:02:14
So, I was busy doing creative things. All my life, really. So, it's sort of in the fingers.

MS. SANDY GELLER

00:02:24
In the fingers. And that is exactly what we wanted to tap into.

SHEIR

00:02:33
This is art therapist Sandy Geller.

GELLER

00:02:35
Because even though you're sight in impaired...

WILLIAMS

00:02:40
Oh, yeah. Right.

GELLER

00:02:40
We wanted to tap into the memory.

SHEIR

00:02:44
Through the Aging in Place Organization, Chevy Chase At Home, Sandy has been working with Kathleen. The met shortly after Kathleen had turned 100, and it had been a while since she'd done any art. But lately, they've been creating these whimsical, colorful figures.

WILLIAMS

00:02:58
All sorts of...

GELLER

00:02:59
A cat.

WILLIAMS

00:03:00
Gloria the cat.

GELLER

00:03:02
Gloria the cat and mice, and monkeys. And the monkey is, maybe, three feet tall.

WILLIAMS

00:03:09
Yes. Life size.

SHEIR

00:03:11
And they've been doing it out of crumpled newspaper, masking tape and paint.

GELLER

00:03:14
We wanted to find a way that she could let her hands remember how to sculpt, even though she can't see very clearly. And we tried paper mache, we tried other things, and then, quite spontaneously, one day, there was a newspaper on the table, and I looked around and Kathleen had sculpted a rabbit. I mean, just, there it was.

WILLIAMS

00:03:44
There it was.

GELLER

00:03:45
And, as you know, rabbits multiply, but, it hasn't stopped multiplying yet.

WILLIAMS

00:03:50
They haven't stopped multiplying.

GELLER

00:03:52
Right.

SHEIR

00:03:53
But all of this art, this art making, it doesn't just stay within the walls of Kathleen's Elm Street home. Last Halloween, she and Sandy planned a crafting fair for the neighborhood, at which, Kathleen displayed a bunch of paper and tape figures, dressed up as a witch.

GELLER

00:04:08
The Woodland Witch of Elm Street, she called herself.

SHEIR

00:04:13
And demonstrated how to use regular household items.

GELLER

00:04:15
Cheese cloth and light bulbs and eye lashes...

SHEIR

00:04:20
To make your own inexpensive Halloween decorations. Then, this past May, Kathleen and Sandy organized what they called a celebration of spring.

GELLER

00:04:27
And all of these animals and figures were present, and -- a maypole dance, and there, Kathleen was the Queen of the May. And, again, the neighborhood, from wee children to others, well on in their years. And it was a celebration. It was lovely.

SHEIR

00:04:52
Kathleen and Sandy have a whole slew of ideas for future projects. Though, as the women sit and smile, side by side, Sandy says she knows who the real driving force is in this dynamic duo.

GELLER

00:05:03
You are the one who keeps coming up with the projects.

SHEIR

00:05:09
The latest endeavor is a series of art classes, led by Kathleen in her home. Though, I shouldn't really say classes, actually, since Kathleen has asked Sandy to call them...

GELLER

00:05:17
Workshops sharing your experience. You told me, no, you're not teaching the method. You want to share the experience of the method.

SHEIR

00:05:28
And Kathleen hopes to keep her artistic experiences going. No. No, scratch that. She doesn't just hope to keep them going. She says she must.

WILLIAMS

00:05:36
Well, it keeps you alive. I mean, literally. It keeps you in touch and alive. One of the sad things about age is that people stop doing things. But I have a theory that life is lived in chapters. And you come to the end of a chapter and you can be negative about it, or positive about it. And life is full of chapters. And look how many chapters I have, being as ancient as I am.

SHEIR

00:06:19
Kathleen Williams may call herself ancient, but at the rate she's going, she's bound to be the life of the party when she celebrates her birthday in December and turns 102 years young.

SHEIR

00:06:35
To see photos of Kathleen's art and to catch her in action as the Woodland Witch of Elm Street and the Queen of the May, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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