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Where the boys are: Making art in Laurier Heights

Laurier Heights Art Group a happy mix of all-age seniors, men and women--who come together to paint, shoot the breeze and move a few tables and chairs as needed!

Statistics don't lie: women live longer than men. These days, life expectancy is about 84 years for women, and 80 for men.  So the Laurier Heights Art Group is unusual in a couple of ways, with several members well into their 90s, meeting a couple of times a week for socializing and painting. Also, a quarter of these older adults are men; quite a rare tally in most senior's recreational groups.

"We currently have six men and 17 women and in our group's 30-year history, 26 of 72 members have been men--area doctors, engineers, professors, medical and financial professionals," explained 95-year-old Lloyd Jones, a retired CPA who has been part of the art group almost from the start. "We're not serious or competitive artists; everything is very collegial and encouraging. We talk and tell jokes, so the social aspect of 'gabbing' is just as important as the painting."

"I guess we have so many men in the group because we're all so good looking," laughed 74-year-old Eleanor MacAllister. "But thank heavens for them. Who else could better fix the toilets, tighten loose screws, put together the tables and chairs and hang the artwork for the annual show?"

Members from ages 65 to 95 spend a precious couple of hours once or twice a week at the Laurier Heights Community Hall, enjoying coffee, fellowship and painting whatever their hearts desire. The group has brought instructors in over the years, but it's mostly self-led: some do still life in acrylic or oil, others fancy creating landscapes and seascapes in water colour. All members bring their own supplies, and each gets the proceeds from selling any of their pieces at the popular annual show and sale. Though this year's event was set for late September, rising COVID-19 numbers means the group will cancel a second straight show and sale.

"I haven't ever sold many paintings--most are stacked a few inches thick in my apartment, but I still do about one a month, and frame the pieces I want to show," said Jones, whose comes by his interest in painting honestly following his dad's lead; even getting a scholarship to study at a Montreal art gallery as a kid. "I don't paint at home now--too messy, but at the hall I like to sit in two stacked arm chairs and paint flat on the table. As long as my health is good and I can drive myself to the classes, I won't give up painting. Even then, I'll get a ride and continue on."

That sentiment is echoed by the group's founder, 93-year-old Helen Richards, whose husband Tom also painted with the group until he passed away at age 102. 

"Over the years, I had studied art through U of A extension courses," said Richards, who describes herself as primarily a Latvian-style painter. "Almost 30 years ago, I approached the community league about holding art classes here, and they said 'that's what our hall is for'. They've always been so cooperative and continue to help us with space for the show and coffee and cake at the sale. And the artists sure appreciate the kitchen and bathrooms that were renovated in recent years."

"When we started, we had a teacher for eight-lesson sessions, twice a year for beginners or any level. Sometimes we still have a workshop, but in the last few years, we mostly do whatever we want. We visit and gossip as we paint; it makes the two hours fly by."

The Laurier Heights Art Group meets at the Laurier Heights Community Hall, 14405 85 Ave NW. See the community league website at lhcl.ca for details.