The times have not kept them idle
By Veronica V. Wuson
Strangely enough, the global pandemic, which initially limelighted seniors as most vulnerable, has spawned a breed of Filipino seniors who buck the trend of dire global stats.
In their 80s, 70s, and a sprinkling of 50s, these lifelong achievers agilely shifted toward the avenues of discovery in the digital world when Covid-19 upended their weekly painting classes at the Sunshine Place, a senior center along Jupiter, Makati.
Both great grandmothers, twice Palanca awardee Lin Acacio Flores, 84, and multidegree Leni Reynoso Araullo, 80, bragged about their digital prowess. “I set up my Zoom,” said Lin. Added Leni, “We are like our children or grandchildren, schmoozing in Zoom.”
Together with other classmates, they interact like teenagers in the digital classroom, vying for the teacher’s attention. The teacher is 60-year-old, multi-awarded artist Fidel Sarmiento, president of the Art Association of the Philippines, who has been guiding them in the Makati center.
“When my husband passed on, painting became my therapy,” said Lin, the dean of seniors at Sunshine. “The online classes fill my days with calm and a sense of personal fulfillment.” Credit goes to Sunshine administrator Gilda Reyes and operations manager Che de Vega who brainstormed with Fidel on how to digitally bridge the seniors.
Past initial glitches, Che and her tech angels, Lynchie Borila and Gerlyn Cavinta, host the Zoom from Sunshine Place, webbing the professor’s Santa Rosa, Laguna residence to the sheltered-in-place seniors. Teaching assistants Robert Fernandez, hyper realist visual artist, zooms from Fairview, Quezon City, and TereBuiser on Fridays from Manila.
“The results are rewarding, keeping seniors busy, forgetting lockdown, bonding online, and the best part, all are progressing, painting their masterpieces,” said Fidel.
This creative workout, which started sometime in March, is conducted four times a week, four hours per session, with a minimum of six students. Fidel opens with a live demo for students to follow. Finished works are then submitted for digital correction. The quorum is a who’s who of A-listers turning the quarantine into an opportunity for learning.
Within eight decades, Leni graduated from accountancy and worked in her father’s businesses, earned an MBA at the Jesuit’s Marquette University in Milwaukee, and finished Food Technology and Nursing. She is the first Filipino certified international cake decorator by the Wilton School of Confectionary in Chicago. With sister Edna, she opened in Reynoso Baking and Cooking School in 1963, which she entrusted to younger sister, Sylvia, when she went back to the US. For 17 years, Leni taught classes, from culinary and nursing to international coding of diseases, in six colleges and two universities. In between, a marriage produced two kids, four grandkids, and three great grandsons.
Retiring at 75, she decided “to explore the world of visual arts in painting,” starting in Los Angeles and landing at Sunshine Place two years ago. Hunkered down in Manila, Leni did 25 canvases within the first three Covid months and sold one during the June online auction of Santuario de San Antonio, Makati.
In the same auction, Conchitina Bernardo sold three paintings. A grandmother of four, Conchitina has a CV today’s influencers can’t beat. Still sporting age-defying looks of her modeling days, she is Ms. Etiquette, pioneered a finishing school, a diplomat’s wife, an editor, a writer, and a civic leader. Five years ago, she discovered Sunshine. Her heart beating with the aid of a pacemaker got hooked with painting and now, she said, “I find that I am learning so much online. It has made me less dependent on maestro. I have to solve the mistakes myself. Importantly it gives me a constructive way to keep my Covid time productive. I have not stepped out since March 14. Upside is I have a lot of practice with painting. It keeps my sanity.”
Another active participant is great-grandmother Cecile de Joya, 82, member of the original batch of the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company. A founder of Fundacion Centro Flamenco, she danced into painting some four years ago. Daughter Minette in her 50s frequents online classes. too.
A Chinese Brush artist, a graduate of law, active with Zonta Club and the Order of Malta, Llanillo has held 11 solo art exhibits here, New York, Stockholm, and Italy. Through Sunshine’s Fidel Sarmiento, she expanded her portfolio into oil portraiture. “I choose which class once a week to get a good practice,” she explained.
Architect MariquitReventar’s calendar overflows with Rotary activities, real estate endeavors in Laguna, and her growing clan, before she pursued painting at Sunshine. “Painting allows me to relax and keep my mind off the business I have been running as a widow for 30 years,” she said.
Diligently joining the digital sessions are barely seniors Loida Tan, Vicky Pollisco, and Cherry Novera. “I never realized the effectiveness of online painting classes, which seem more fulfilling, more focused,” Loida said. Online classmates are seniors Mee Lee Casey, Len Torres Fernandez, Lita Gelano, and Vicky Lopez whose combined painting successes aren’t enough for these pages. Laureana de la Cruz blinks intermittently. The lone wolf, Nick Uychaco, zooms from California.
Isn’t it grand?
The unforeseen gift of the pandemic is unleashing cooped up creativity in these exemplary seniors who continue to exude joie de vivre.