Instead, she got a degree in education, married and raised five children in the Seattle suburbs. She continued to draw and paint, but only at night after her kids were in bed. It wasn’t until her 50s, when their children were grown, that she informed her husband she was ready to “paint with the big guys.”
Donna enrolled in graduate school at University of Washington, earned her doctorate and worked as an adjunct professor teaching visual literacy and methods of art education into her 60s. Since then, she has been an active member of her local art community, and exhibiting and selling her paintings, etchings and drawings throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Now, at 85, Donna continues to create art. And she credits her passion for it as the key to staying young. “As an artist, you have an idea and you physically have to act upon it,” she says. “You use your whole body, and exercise the body-brain connections.“
Likewise, when the realities of aging do appear, her passion for art seems to helps her adapt. Last year, unable to paint due to a fall that left her with a broken arm and shoulder, she took up Tai Chi to recover faster and soon was learning the art of Chinese printmaking. And when the time came to move into an assisted living facility, she chose a community located a few blocks away from the art center where she continues take classes.
Issues of health and the physical effects of aging are challenges that artist Kaki Reeves knows all too well. She lives at the same assisted living facility as Donna, and like Donna, Kaki’s artistic journey started later in life.
Despite her love of art, Kaki built a career in real estate. It wasn’t until her mid-30s that she reclaimed her “hippy, artist” dreams and went back to school. She graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in fine, and then headed to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina to continue studying printmaking.
But her promising second career as a printmaker was cut short. At the age of 52, she suffered a massive stroke that affected her entire right side, and left her unable to move or speak. After extensive therapy she learned to speak again, and regained her some of her physical abilities. But unfortunately for the right-handed artist, her right arm and hand remained paralyzed. And yet, Kaki persevered.
Channeling her pain into creative expression, she changed her medium to acrylics and watercolors, and began painting with her left-hand. “I’m an artist,” she says. “I needed to paint. It got messy, but that’s okay.”
As she ages, the stroke’s effects amplify, and Kaki adapts her art to her abilities. Now, at 69, Kaki continues to paint daily. She has a line of brightly colored greeting cards that she sells at a local coffee shop.
By Robynn Polansky