Senior citizens share stories through FYS

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Usually, the young learn from their elders, but in a unique first-year seminar, students are teaching senior citizens the art of story telling through illustrating tales on ceramic plates.
In assistant professor of art Meredith K. Brickell’s seminar, “Around the Table: Handmade Ceramics, Food, and Conversation,” students learned to make plates and are sharing this skill.
Within the classroom, the students examine family, traditions and customs in relation to food. They have examined these topics within varying cultures. However, Brickell did not want their experience to be limited to discussion.
She wanted to create a relationship between students’ artistic work and a “tangible community,” such as the Putnam County Senior Center.
“It’s a service-learning course so it’s really grounded in the relationship between the students and the class and the seniors,” Brickell said.
The students are expected to go to the Senior Center three times during the semester, though they are encouraged to go more. At the Center, students get to meet with Greencastle community members and discuss their lives, especially related to food. They learn about each other’s family and traditions related to food, often over a meal.
Some students have joined them on Fridays, when the members make dinner together. Some bring dishes, while others cook there.
In the beginning of the semester, students learned a lot about creating plates in the ceramics studio with Brickell’s guidance. After mastering the art of creating plates, the students met with the Senior Center members at Peeler Art Center, where they shared their new talent. On Nov. 14, they will decorate the plates. Using their creations as a way to illustrate the community members’ stories, they will be following what Brickell calls “a long tradition of plates as canvases.”
When creating this First-Year Seminar, Brickell hoped the experience would go beyond simply creating pretty plates. Originally, all the plates were going to feature designs reflecting the Senior Center members’ lives related to food. Some still do, such as the plate of Moore and her partner, Bonnie Roberts.
Roberts has memories of visiting a diner with her grandfather, and they are using that to create a “diner-theme” for their plate.
Other pairs, like senior center member Ila Reeves and first-year student Kristen Selven, have chosen instead to etch a cat onto their plate. Reeves has collected cat-related objects since 1958 and said that her kids will just “roll their eyes and say ‘Oh, Mom'” when they see her new addition.
“At one time I had twenty-five [cats], but my dad convinced me that wasn’t a good idea,” Reeves said, which resulted in going door-to-door with a backset of cats. She enjoys sharing these types of stories with Selven regularly.
Reeves also said that working with Selven has given her a chance to learn new skills.
“I’m learning you’re never too old to try something new,” she said.