Folk Art Creates Meaning for Older Adults


FolkArt&Aging BookCoverIt’s not just a hobby; it’s a way of life

What does growing old mean to you? It’s a quintessential question worth pondering pre- and post- retirement. John Kay’s book Folk Art & Aging: Life Story Objects and Their Makers encourages us to tap into our creativity to meet the challenges of aging through life objects that communicate our personal memories and stories. Folk art is so much more a hobby; it’s an opportunity for older adults to display uniquely creative expressions based on life experiences. It doesn’t begin at 65+, creativity can come to life at any age.

John Kay is a professor of Practice and Director of Traditional Arts in the department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington.   He captures the stories of four men and one woman, all over 80, from a range of ethnic backgrounds whose lives share a theme of trauma or loss.  Their artistic works have given them a healthy new identity and a positive perspective.

Memories are their catalyst and creativity is the positive outpouring of life stories in mediums of wood and words, paintings of death camps, and stories woven in rugs. There are delightful photographs of these five artists, paired with their works and narratives, whose journeys evolve through cultural, social, and personal development. Their folk art objects are the vehicle to building confidence, giving voice to experience, and connecting the artists to others.

Kay’s message encourages readers to find a path to tell our stories through quilting, pottery, painting and music making or other mediums, to ward off loneliness, boredom, and helplessness, which can be the downside of aging.
Art has therapeutic power. Creating can help us make sense of life and design a new vibrant identity.

We connect to ourselves in three stages – the present, the past and the future. Life offers meaningful ways to visually represent who we are. This book can inspire you to be the master of your life story. By creating life story objects as physical evidence of our lives – we can leave a tangible memory for our children and grandchildren to honor our legacies.

Watch Jon Kay share his personal stories of the people featured in his book at the C. C. Young Facebook page below:

Kathryn MacDonell is the Geriatric Program Manager at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Dallas. She is currently planning an art-filled retirement.


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