Aging Artfully
by Amy Gorman

PAL Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0978519205.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 12/18/2007

Nonfiction: Elders; Nonfiction: Biography

"Slow down," one of my children may tell me; sometimes, I even say it to myself.

Forget it!

The great message of this book is "Keep going—full tilt."

Consider Dorothy Toy, 88, with a dance class full of high school girls, or Lily Hearst at the piano practicing her scales before she tackled Chopin, all this before her students arrive. Lily didn't like teaching youngsters—she insisted that they be at least 70. It makes sense, since when Lily taught her students, she was 105 herself. Dorothy and Lily are but two of the inspiring women whose stories enliven the pages of this fascinating book.

Author Amy Gorman, along with her colleague, Frances Kandl, became intrigued with women artists who continued to pursue their art into their later years. Amy was so intrigued, that in 2006 she interviewed twelve of them, all but one 85 or older, who lived in or near Berkeley, California. The interviews and these women became this book, which is itself an inspiration.

The women followed many muses: Lily, music; Dorothy, dance; the well-named Stella Toogood Cope told stories, as did Orunamanu (Mary Beth Washington). There are painters, singers, a doll maker, a rug braider and an Ikebana artist as well. Despite the differences in craft and life story among the women, the author noted many similarities: they accepted the limitations of age without complaint and they "continued to do their art no matter what."

As my own clock ticks along (whose does not?), I find inspiration in each story. These women can serve as models for all of us. It would be a fine book to share with older women's groups, not only to encourage the participants but also to serve as a catalyst for the sharing of their own stories. This book also deserves a place in the larger field of women's history, for while each woman was living her later years in California, their stories spanned three centuries and several continents. Lily began her life in Austria, where with her sister, she pioneered skiing for women—and wore pants to do it! Stella began her storytelling career on the radio in England, while Madeline, the doll maker, was a pioneering African-American nurse in New York. Dancer Rosa Maria traces her family back to the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, and dancer Dorothy, American born with Japanese heritage, spent the Second World War in her parents' homeland. Such diversity, such a wealth of personal creativity. If these women are all in Berkeley, I wonder about the women around me!

A bonus comes with this book. Frances Kandl composed seven songs about the women interviewed here. She performed them as a salute to the women; a compact disc is included with the book.

A book to appreciate and share.

Amy Gorman has worked as a speech therapist and medical social worker. She founded and served as Executive Director of Kidshows, a nonprofit arts organization. During her tenure there she became interested in the concerns of aging artists who wish to continue to practice their crafts. She lives in Berkeley, California. Visit at her website to learn more.

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