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North Country Artist brings joy to seniors in assisted living facilities

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 7:24 PM EDT
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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (WCAX) - A North Country, New York, artist is bringing smiles to seniors through art and music.

Artist Joe Ferris spends his days off doing one of his favorite things. “I’m lucky to be able to do it,” he said. Sharpie in hand and singing an old tune, he is capturing his friends in the moment, even if they are a bit older than he is. In five years he has made well over 500 caricatures of seniors living in adult living facilities in New York and Vermont. It started as a quick way to make money after graduation but has turned into something more than he could have ever planned for. “It connects me with other people,” Ferris said.

Now more than ever, when Ferris says many seniors can’t leave their homes, these portraits and moments are important. The flow of colors not only lifting his mental health, but those of the person behind the window.

Marie Tiblis, a resident of Elderwood of Uihlein at Lake Placid, posed for Ferris. “He made me look beautiful,” she said.

Ferris says the art helps him too. “Connect with all these people that might be going through similar bouts of loneliness really makes me feel not alone throughout these tough times,” he said.

Each portrait is done in under ten minutes, drawing as many as he can in two hours. He focuses on the key features and details, like the eyes. He says the best part is seeing their eyes light up when they see the final product.

“You’ve done beautiful stuff,” said Oscar Morehouse, who also posed for Ferris.

Every picture tells a story, and in those few minutes, Ferris learns their story starting from a blank canvas. “It’s really an honor to draw some of these residents' pictures,” he said.

When he’s not bringing smiles to seniors with a stroke of a pen, he’s picking his banjo and signing. Ferris is the music counselor at Meadowbrook Healthcare in Plattsburgh. Five days a week, he offers “Music and Memory” sessions at the nursing home.

Kimberly Parker, the activities director at Meadowbrook, says they notice a difference in the residents when they hear songs they remember from their past. This is particularly helpful with residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s.

“Music and Memory can kind of spur some life and some joy and the tapping of the foot. Memories of childhood, memories of weddings, memories of things that happened that with music they can relate too,” she said.

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