‘Family Ties’ mosaic rises at Oklahoma City Seniors’ Wellness Center

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Gay Lee Abarr smiled as he pointed to the round piece of resin-covered checkered fabric, a piece of his grandmother’s dress forever commemorated in a mosaic mural she helped piece together.

Abarr is one of the many seniors who helped local artist Nick Bayer create the “Family Ties” mosaic that now lights up the community hall at Pete White Health and Wellness Center, 4021 S Walker Ave.

“She made this dress in the 1950s and wore it until her death,” Abarr said. “Here it will be remembered.”

The mural – which lasted almost a year – features a tree, several animal families, and lush green hills in the background. The “leaves” are made of round fabric resin pieces donated by the limbs, while the tree, animals and grass along the bottom are painted ceramic tiles fired in the center kiln.

Gay Lee Abarr and Ryan McClure take a closer look at the mosaic mural titled "Family ties" on display at a reception for artist Nick Bayer and attendees from the Seniors Center who helped complete the mural at the Pete White Health and Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Thursday, October 7, 2021. Abarr helped complete the artwork.

Bayer said he came up with the idea of ​​using fabric from a blanket his own grandmother had made for him.

“Every time I see this blanket, I think of it,” Bayer said. “So what I wanted to do was create a work of art centered on… the idea of ​​a piece of fabric, and how it can have that family bond within it, and the memory of a person. . But also, it can represent culture, and it can represent individuality and personality. “

‘A place to come’

Work on the mural began last September – funded from the centre’s arts budget – and came just after Laura Kent began her new role as arts coordinator.

The Pete White Health and Wellness Center opened on Capitol Hill in 2018 and was a MAPS 3 project, a $ 777 million improvements program approved by citizens in 2009. MAPS 3 provided $ 55.5 million to four health and wellness centers for the elderly, the third and fourth of which are still under construction.

Seniors Center attendees Tony Salamanca, Gay Lee Abarr, Loretta Fleming and Gloria Robles, left to right, talk about their contribution to helping artist Nick Bayer complete the mosaic mural titled "Family ties" at the Pete White Health and Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Thursday, October 7, 2021.

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Catering to people aged 50 and over, the center offers a variety of programs including fitness, cooking, computer lessons, as well as a clinic and café. The mural essentially boosted the centre’s artistic program, which was dormant before Kent’s arrival, she said.

“A lot of the members say, ‘This is the first time in my life that I have had the chance to… try something,” said Kent. “They’ve spent their entire lives working, sometimes multiple jobs, to make it work.… (Now) some of them have this opportunity just to see what’s in them. I think it is. something special.”

The mosaic mural titled "Family ties" on display at a reception for artist Nick Bayer and attendees from the Seniors Center who helped complete the mural at the Pete White Health and Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Thursday, October 7, 2021.

Bayer said he noticed many members were very scared and anxious about trying something new and using their creative side, like Fleming when she heard about the mosaic for the first time.

It is important that the city appreciates having an artistic space in its senior wellness centers, Bayer said, so that these fears can be overcome and members can learn new ways of expressing themselves. .

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Details of the mosaic titled "Family ties" on display at a reception for artist Nick Bayer and attendees from the Seniors Center who helped complete the mural at the Pete White Health and Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Thursday, October 7, 2021.

Loretta Fleming, who said a year ago that she had no idea what she was doing when it came to ceramic making, now has several pieces in the kiln room that she is working on for holiday gifts. .

In addition to the kiln and working with ceramics, there are always new projects and classes for members to try out, Kent said.

“It’s mostly about connection and community more than anything,” said Kent. “It’s not necessarily product driven, it’s more about coming into space, interacting with each other and having a place to come to.”

“It was something special that we did”

When Fleming first heard about the mural, she didn’t think it was for her.

She had never done much artistic, but one day Fleming decided to take a look into the art room where Bayer and the centre’s art coordinator, Laura Kent, were working.

“I was afraid to go in there,” Fleming said. “Finally, about two weeks after they (started), I went back over there, and Nick and Laura said, ‘Come in, Loretta.'”

Details of the mosaic titled "Family ties" on display at a reception for artist Nick Bayer and attendees from the Seniors Center who helped complete the mural at the Pete White Health and Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Thursday, October 7, 2021.

Fleming – whose green floral dress and her husband’s dark tie are included in the mosaic – worked on the project alongside Abarr, Gloria Robles and Tony Salamanca under Bayer guidance last year.

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From cutting fabric circles to painting tiles for many animals and even painting tiny round dots that would fill the holes in the mosaic, there was always something to be done, Robles said.

“And Nick would always say, ‘There’s nothing hard to do,’” Robles said. “And it wasn’t hard, but when we all saw it coming together, piece by piece, it was like ‘Wow’.”

Details of the mosaic titled "Family ties" on display at a reception for artist Nick Bayer and attendees from the Seniors Center who helped complete the mural at the Pete White Health and Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Thursday, October 7, 2021.

In the yellow areas of the mosaic are circles of bright yellow fabric with little white chickens, purchased by Robles to represent his mother raising chickens. Now that the project is over, she said a part of her was sad not to be in the art room with Bayer and the others.

Although they will miss working on the project, it is a source of joy to watch the work completed and to know that they have contributed to it.

“It’s wonderful, it’s something special that we did,” Fleming said.


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