Local Seniors Reminisce About the Holidays Through Interactive Art

ALEXANDRIA, VA–As the holidays approach with uncertainty, the residents at Goodwin House, a faith based retirement home in Alexandria, are reminding everyone of the beauty in life, despite the turbulence of the last nine months.

Displaying its exhibition Memory: A Participatory Project through the holiday season, Goodwin House is bringing its 450 residents and 300 staff members together through art, since most must forgo family gatherings this year.

“It really brought some cheer for sure, especially during the holiday seasons,” Lindsay Mueller, Art Center Coordinator at Goodwin House, says of the exhibition.

Willa Cleary, a Goodwin House resident, and the featured artist of this year’s exhibition, notes, “People have been talking about how wonderful the programs are and how much effort the staff has put in to keep [the residents] happier than they would be otherwise.”

Willa Cleary, a Goodwin House resident, is the featured artist of the exhibition.

The idea for Willa’s featured theme—Memories…In Pencil, Ink, Watercolor, and Oil— came very naturally to Willa, considering the state of the year.

Jenny Wu, Communications and Volunteer Coordinator at Goodwin House, embraces the theme whole heartedly. “2020 has been a very depressing year. We wanted something that is positive and makes people take a two minute mental break to think about something that they love.”

The exhibition is two-fold: a section of four prompts— My Childhood, Things I Learned From Grandparents, The Holidays, and My First Home—to which residents and staff can respond; and another section with strictly Willa’s pieces.

The most popular prompt is My Childhood, which has accumulated pictures of residents and staff from when they were a few months old to no older than ten years.

“It’s really adorable to see the people you know when they’re already adults reminiscing. You still see the same personality in them. It’s two sides of the same person,” says Jenny.

Many residents and staff have responded to the interactive prompts.


The participatory exhibit has welcomed 90 participants from Goodwin House so far.

Willa’s own exhibit includes selections of her artwork from the past twenty years. Drawing inspiration from the small moments of life, Willa’s art features imagery of travel, people, nature, and time.

The Chapel at Tlaquepaque (Watercolor)
Rugged Seacoat at Dawn (Oil on Canvas)
Home From the Market (Watercolor, from an original painting by Tom Hill in The Watercolorist’s Complete Guide to Color)
Hollyhocks, St. Mary’s City (Oil on Canvas)
Drummer Girl (Colored Pencil)

One of her standouts—Sisters (Colored Pencil)—is a drawing she did in 2008 of her husband’s twin granddaughters.

“I can’t say I have a favorite piece because each is so meaningful for me for a different reason, but on Christmas day, we went downtown to the mall, it was the first time the girls had been there. At one point, one of the girls was climbing a little fence, the other was running happily down the path. Then the girl climbing the fence turned around and that’s when the photograph was snapped. I created a drawing from it because I think it shows innocence and the sheer happiness of childhood before things begin to change.”

Sisters (Colored Pencil)

Willa’s exhibit also includes a Covid-related image at the end. Willa comments, “This was the one picture that wasn’t upbeat. It is definitely a memory, but an ongoing one too, so I thought it was fitting to put it in at the end.”

Quiet City Easter 2020 (Pencil)

To accommodate Covid-19 health and safety protocols, the exhibit is virtual, open 24 hours a day, and on display through the end of December. Residents may pass through the space at their leisure, or access the gallery via a virtual link. The virtual link can be shared with residents’ friends and families upon request, and a video of Willa’s exhibition is available through an internal television channel for all Goodwin House residents.

“It is so meaningful to me that they made this possible. I’d love to have my friends come and see it, but this is nice to do anyway. I was happy they made the video and I can pass it on,” says Willa.

She concludes, “I have been so grateful that I have something positive to focus on during this time; without that I don’t know what I would’ve done, really.”

For Willa and other residents at Goodwin House, collaborating on an exhibition as meaningful and impactful as Memory is truly making the best of an unconventional holiday.

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