SYRACUSE — Randy Bowling treasures a ceramic bull, recalling his youthful days riding a Brahman bull named “Jack.” His story is one of many highlighted in a traveling SUNY Oswego art exhibition, “Recollections: Storytelling Through Mementos,” on display for the next month at Randy’s home, Loretto Health and Rehabilitation Center, 700 E. Brighton Ave. in Syracuse.
Demonstrating how precious mementos can be for anyone, but certainly for memory-challenged seniors, the exhibition will move on from Loretto to a succession of senior residences over the next year in Oswego and Onondaga counties, according to SUNY Oswego art faculty member Rebecca Mushtare, whose fall 2018 graphic arts class in “Experience Design” crafted the stories and photos and objects of residents at the facilities into an interactive, moveable exhibition.
Mounted on a gallery frame that runs the length of a hallway leading to the main residential elevator at Loretto, visitors graphically see recollections of seniors around an accordion, a teacup, Play-Doh, a doll, a trophy, an Instamatic camera — anything of theirs that triggers special memories.
Graphic arts design talent is on display, too: 35 pyramidal story-and-photo boxes that can rotate on poles, a rack of six hanging posters that visitors can flip through to read fictional stories that residents concocted, lots of two-dimensional visual art, shelves with mementos, a hard-cover exhibition catalog and a station for sharing new additions to the collection of memories.
Story gathering began last summer, said Michael Flanagan, directory of SUNY Oswego’s Tyler Art Gallery. Adjunct instructor Seeley Cardone acted as facilitator; BFA graphic arts major Julie Farquhar worked as an intern on the project, assisting Mushtare, Flanagan and fellow students, and designed the catalog.
“It was definitely more therapy for the residents,” said Farquhar. “It was nice to see them interacting with these objects and their memories. It was interesting to see what they wanted to bring with them. They brought things that meant the most to them.”
Miles Petersen, a junior graphic design major, said, “Some of the stories were really touching. I remember a story about a man and a woman and a jukebox … She ended up being his wife.”
For some seniors without specific memories of objects, the SUNY Oswego team needed to adapt, Flanagan said. “We did creative storytelling where we talked about objects and then asked them to advance the story.”
Senior graphic design major Hannah Sojka said the student artists kept their sights on the needs of people with varying abilities, including those using wheelchairs or scooters. “We wanted things at eye level on shelves and we used paper that’s washable,” she said.
The students look forward to participating in programming around the “Recollections” traveling exhibition, on a schedule to be announced.
“I’m excited to see those reactions and be part of that,” said Sojka. “A project like this is like creating a whole new family — it brings the community together.”
Scheduling is under way for taking the exhibition to The Manor at Seneca Hill, St. Luke Health Services and Morningstar Residential Care, all in Oswego County, and to The Hearth at Greenpoint in Liverpool.
“Recollections: Storytelling Through Mementos” benefited from a trio of grants, from Health Foundation of Western and Central New York, Leon J. and Anne B. Goldberg Foundation and CNY Arts.
This “Recollections” project is part two of an effort that SUNY Oswego’s art department began with “Recollections: A Memory Awareness Project” five years ago.
For more information on opportunities in art at SUNY Oswego, visit oswego.edu/art.