2017 National Mature Media Award WINNER

2017 National Mature Media Award WINNER
The Creative Landscape of Aging Wins a NMMA Award!


Saturday, December 31, 2011


It’s a phrase I spontaneously created in 2009 when an interviewer asked about my contributions to a charity. Although it was a quick creative response, in retrospect it was an important one.

We live in extraordinary times. With the economy lagging and joblessness, mortgage defaults and bankruptcies at high levels, many people are still struggling to stay afloat. Giving money to charity is not a possibility when there is barely enough for oneself. Yet giving does not have to be financial. By extending yourself to help others with services or simply by listening and offering support, you have opened yourself to emotional philanthropy.

I have identified three basic paths to channeling kindness through your life to consciously be a better social human being. The first is more psychologically based and the second is more reactive.

The first path starts with gratitude in one’s own life. Everyone has faced hurdles and disappointments yet everyone also has realized positive experiences. Taking positivity and transforming it to gratitude and then transforming the gratitude to giving are lifetime processes. It is important to realize that when you feel sated emotionally, you will be more likely to be generous with someone else. The second path is based on empathy. Knowing someone who is facing a critical situation that you can identify with and support will likely inspire you to reach out and help. It might be someone with a particular form of cancer, child support issues or job loss concerns that will trigger a reaction to help. The third path is an immediate emotional response often accompanied by a physical act that, without planning, will bring a person to hero status. For example, this might be seeing people hurt in an accident, hearing about a family tragedy or learning about the needs in a local shelter. It is usually a spontaneous response to tragedy or hardship.

There’s also scientific evidence of what is happening inside us while we are responding outside. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, has demonstrated a strong link between oxytocin and generosity. “We drew blood before and after people watched one of the two videos and found that doing nothing more watching the emotional video produced a huge 157% spike in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin levels actually fell for those who watched the neutral video. We then asked people how they felt after seeing the videos. For the emotional video, the change in oxytocin was correlated with feelings of empathy…. Oxytocin connects us to others and lets us understand their emotions.”

So if you are ready to do good and just do not know where to start or how to begin, there is a wealth of suggestions for taking a path with kindness at this website. The site provides a cyber deck of cards divided in the predictable suits of clubs, hearts diamonds, and spades. The categories are designed for people you know, for strangers, for yourself, for our world and offer thoughtful suggestions within each category for opportunities to show gratitude in one’s life by reaching out and seeking opportunities that will make a difference.

Everything is not all about dollars and cents. It is also about actively giving and living life with purpose. The unchartered waters abound for ordinary people to do extraordinary things for each other.

“If you want others to be happy, practice generosity and compassion. If you want to be happy, practice generosity and compassion….” The Dalai Lama

“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving… ”- Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beautiful Art That Disappears

Paintings by the masters such as Rembrandt, Botticelli and Rubens have been delicately preserved and treasured to last for centuries. Yet some artists today create work that will knowingly disappear in hours. Puff; it’s here. Puff again it’s gone. Much of this art is vulnerable to its environment.

Sand. A wonderful element that conjures unique memories whether you were building with it or just sunning on the beach. Sandcastle contests are fabulous and held at many beach locations across the United States. The work can be dramatic or playful but the world of sand art has been forever elevated by Jim Denevan. His work is graphic, linear and huge; aerial photographs must be used to capture the entire work which can stretch for miles. Not limited to warm weather and sand, he has also traveled to the other extreme. With his crew, he has created frozen two dimensional art on over nine miles of the world’s largest lake, Siberia’s Lake Baikal. The finished piece was a series of circles representing the Fibonnacci sequence and its monumental size has been considered the world’s largest drawing.

Scott Wade does not require vast space for his art. He calls his work Dirty Car Art and his brush work on windshields is remarkable. Scott achieves amazing detail and shading to create portraits that show subtle expressions and has also captured a studied work of Vermeer. Alas, the work will not last on those windshields; weather and air particles will alter it.

Do you ever think that amazing art can be made with your cup of coffee? How about what can be made with 3,604 cups of coffee and 564 pints of milk. An Australian team recreated Mona Lisa with coffees of varying intensities to replicate the sepia tones. At 20 feet high and 13 feet wide, it involved a team of eight people three hours to complete. Yes, this is ephemeral art but it will last longer than the single cup of coffee that is made into art by using steamed milk for contrast. Baristas should be sharpening their creative skills and watching for global Latte Art competitions!

Not intended to be edible, there are beautiful ice sculptures exquisitely carved and destined to gracefully melt in their environment. Some special culinary events showcase ice art for the table such as the classic swan or fish while there are monumental pieces that stand alone in their glimmering elegance. Predictably wherever there is art, there is competition. The National Ice Carving Association runs regional and national competitions and Kevin Gregory and Tony Young have won awards for their extraordinary work. Ice sculpture as a sociopolitical statement was created by Marshall Reese and Nora Ligorano. Mainstream Meltdown was created on 10/29/08, the 79th anniversary of the stock market crash. Pristine and elegant, Mainstream Meltdown on 10/29/08, the 79th anniversary of the stock market crash. In its pristine elegance the word ECONOMY was carved in block letters weighing 1600 pounds and measuring 15 to 20 feet across and about 5 feet high. Its strategic New York City location was in front of the Supreme Court Building and next to Wall Street. Yet it was doomed; it could not last 20 hours and was an “economy meltdown” disintegrating right before your eyes.

Unlike ice sculptures, food art does not usually get affected by the weather. Time and human consumption are its culprits. Beyond the traditionsl radish rosettes, food elements are composed in such a way that their original state is transformed. Vegetable and fruit art is insightfully creative with the potential of being both sophisticated and humorous. And then there are edible portraits that are delicious mosaics of all sorts of food and can capture the aesthetic essence of Rachel Ray, Rosey O'Donnell and others.

A tribute to the glory and purpose of food art was on exhibition at the recent Pennsylvania Farm Show. A 1,000 pound refrigerated butter sculpture by Jim Victor beautifully created this piece to depict a boy taking his calf through a county fair. This work was remarkable yet at the end of the fair this sculpture would be tossed in a manure pit. Steve Reinford is the farmer in charge who will oversee a bacterial breakdown process that can take a month to turn the butter to methane gas which can be burned in an engine and can be converted into electricity. This butter sculpture will have had many lives.

For the ephemeral nature of all these art forms, there is photography to document its presence in time. Perhaps it also speaks of the preciousness of time and beauty in our own lives.

If you want to experiment, do something temporary.
Andy Garcia, Actor

Monday, October 31, 2011

Creating Age Friendly Cities-Part 1

We know it’s coming. The silver tsunami is rising.

Baby boomer Americans are getting older and continuing to increase in startling numbers. The US Census Bureau predicts that between 2000 and 2050 there will be a 147 percent increase in demographics for individuals aged 65 and over while the entire population as a whole will increase by only 49 percent. Older adults will represent more than 20 percent of the population.

So what are cities and towns doing to prepare for this demographic change? What should be done to build age friendly cities and towns?

Fortunately there are some leaders and innovators.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has begun to change the face of senior centers. Once just a drop off place to avoid isolation, there are 8 pilot centers now on their way to be an intentional destination with vital activities such as underwater photography, rooftop gardening, technology courses and video conferencing. It will also be the first in the country dedicated to supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities and also focus on seniors with vision problems.

This city is also creatively mining their assets. Idle school buses are being used to take seniors grocery shopping from senior centers and senior centers will offer studio space to artists in exchange for their services, such as teaching art classes to senior center members.

The critical key continues to be communication and support in a networked approach among stakeholders and others to make the Age-Friendly NYC project effective and sustainable. “The mayor’s office formed a partnership with The New York Academy of Medicine to consult with the city’s seniors, service providers, advocates and experts” with a 4 year timeline for implementation. With 59 public-sector initiatives in progress, seniors will reap benefits of being safer and more engaged than other large cities facing such changing demographics. Mayor Bloomberg says “…as older New Yorkers continue to redefine the aging experience, government has a responsibility to keep pace and to find innovative ways to empower this community and improve its quality of life.” It’s no wonder that older New Yorkers are moving back from Florida.

Many urban leaders are tackling these issues because creating age friendly cities is an imperative. They are also aware that when city changes are implemented to assist older adults, it positively impacts other groups. For example, everyone could use outdoor seating, we all would like accessible public toilets and pedestrian crossings reconfigured to accommodate slow walkers would also help pregnant women, adults with small children and people with disabilities.

Cities are dynamic places to live. Many empty nesters are moving to or staying in urban areas for short (often walking) distance to shopping, easy access to transportation, a range of social services and a plethora of cultural opportunities. They pay taxes, fuel the economy and contribute in a variety of ways that maintain a diverse and involved presence. Creating age friendly cities is not only an obligation but also an important way to grow vital and harmonious communities.

"Leaders can inspire cities and cities can inspire leaders."

Jim Hunt, former Governor of North Carolina

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Truth about Creativity

There are two main truths.

The first truth is that creativity always introduces something new and therefore is important to our everyday lives as well as society.

The second truth is that creativity always introduces something new and therefore is often feared and rejected.

In addition to the fine and performing arts, we benefit from creativity in every aspect of our lives. For example, over the years the horse and buggy was replaced by well-designed cars, trains and planes to travel across land and space shuttles to explore the world above. Technology has allowed us to expedite and enrich our communication and knowledge; there was no historical substitute because electricity was first evolving in the nineteenth century. Thomas Edison who was refining the incandescent electric light bulb at that time, also invented the first phonograph and held a record number of 1,093 patents. Edison said “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it”. Steve Jobs who lead his company, Apple, to go beyond computers to create the iPod, iPhone and iPad also looked at the world’s potential needs and took hold of new markets in the process.

There are millions of opportunities we have today because creative individuals used their vision, sweat and time to persevere failures to gain success.

So why fear? What is the psychological factor that makes people shun a new concept or just a new approach to an old method? I believe they have the innate need for homeostasis. No change is the right change. The creative unknown cannot be allowed to displace the comfort of the familiar. It would be too risky, require understanding and acclimation and what if they failed to adjust to it? So many negative concerns swirl through their psyches that they need to prevent it from entering their lives. And so they lose. And sometimes we all lose because they may have the power and/or majority to thwart the flow of creativity.

Think about this; make time to reflect, analyze and respond to situations that are present in your life. A creative life can start with a new route to a regular destination, it can be making splatter pancakes instead of traditional round ones; find things to change and explore in a new way. Keep your mind flexible and open and allow for the unexpected.

The creative world is yours for the taking.

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

― Thomas A. Edison

Sunday, July 31, 2011


We all have them and we all hate them. Problems. It takes our time, saps our energy and puts us in a negative space. But only temporarily; we usually find a solution and move on. And yet there are times when that problem is actually an unrealized gift.

Alexander Graham Bell said “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Enter mental flexibility, creative thinking and positive psychology; a triad of intellectual ammunition that can transform battles to opportunities. Well known successes have been launched with this approach and our lives are better because of it. Many famous people, despite their initial failures, did not give up; instead they regrouped, rethought, recharged and came back with new strategies. For example, Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he had success, R. H. Macy failed seven times before his New York City store became a valued retailer and Walt Disney went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. These people worked on long term goals; they fell and got up again many times before they reached the finishing line. They were creative thinkers; tenacious with their vision yet flexible in their thought processes. Eventually their success reaped not only financial benefits but also personal satisfaction. Their triumph became our benefit.

As we age, our hurdles are more focused on our physical changes and less on career challenges. Everyone has a different way of coping; meditation, prayer, support groups and denial are avenues that will often alleviate some stress. There are many instances of older adults who realized that if they maintained their focus and looked at their problem from a different angle, a new solution, perhaps even a serendipitous one, could provide a new source of joy to their lives. Here are some examples:

• Don R. is a retired Professor of Literature. He has read and reread classics many times as well as thousands of other books because reading has been an integral part of his life. But when his eyesight began to fail him, real frustration was on the horizon. Enter audio books. Don has become so engaged in this new way of consuming literature that he feels it offers benefits that reading quietly by himself does not. For instance when he listens to poetry he can actually hear the cadence rather than silently read it. So Don, analytical by nature, evaluates narrators as critically as many evaluate authors and enjoys talking about their differences, addressing valuable insights to the theatre of the written word.

• Jane S. loves Florida and her senior community. She always has been independent and enjoyed driving to see friends and doing errands. However when her quick response time slowed down, her stress on the road escalated and her fender benders added to her insurance expense. Jane knew that she had to stop driving but she did not want to stop being on the go. At the same time, her physician was concerned about her weight gain and sedentary life style. The solution was evident: bike riding. Although she had not ridden in years, she took it up quickly again and can be seen pedaling around her community to see friends while losing weight, feeling better and enjoying more confidence in herself.

• Jean E. founded a free dance program for youth; she choreographed and also designed and constructed the costumes. But when arthritis took hold she needed to change her focus. "It had been a long life dream of hers to write a historical novel,” her daughter said. To date, Jean has written four novels and although she is now struggling with macular degeneration, true to her spirit, she is using the “best aids available at this time as she still has a couple more books brewing in her mind,” reflected her daughter. “Her upbeat attitude is an inspiration and shows that age and its physical changes cannot take away our creativity and desires to explore what life has to offer.”

So it’s possible, and definitely advantageous, to take those problems and create new positive experiences. “While simple cognitive processing measures such as those of memory and attention might decline with age, it seems that everyday problem solving does not”. We possess the experience and wisdom to make choices to better our life experience. While disappointments and hurdles will crop up, our decision to mine positive alternatives will support a healthier way of living. Everyday creativity is less about art and more about how we configure these choices and relate to the world around us. Creative thinking and perseverance will reap the rewards of positive aging.

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."

~ Confucius

Monday, June 27, 2011


This is not about knitting classic afghans. It’s about taking the element of yarn to build an art form that is unexpected and unconventional. It’s about having a vision that transcends ordinary imagination to construct an entity that can be sublime, artful and perhaps even curious.

At 76, Sheila Hicks is considered the grand doyenne of fiber art. Born in Nebraska, studied with Josef Albers at Yale, Sheila has traveled for her work in Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Morocco, India, and also Paris where she has lived since the 1960s while sharing her studio time in New York. With numerous awards and in celebrated collections of museums internationally, she has honed a career that has led to huge commissioned fiber art sought by companies such as the Target Corporation for their Minneapolis headquarters and Ford Foundation for their New York headquarters. At a recent exhibition of her work, Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the viewer can relish the intimate delicacy of her small fiber art as well as the enormity of pieces than can span upwards of 20 feet high. Her textile sensitivity embraces incredible colors, a range of fibers, extraordinary textures, meticulous craftsmanship, unexpected materials and bold drama. “My work is based on emotional responses to visual impressions or to the need to express an idea – to give it form. Color, texture, concept, scale, and structure are inextricably linked” says Sheila Hicks. Probably best known for her coil wrapping technique with fibers, there is also diversity in her work as evidenced by La Clef, 1988, a lyrical grouping of rubber bands that playfully loop together with a metal key. She has merged the world of craft with fine art. Always improvising, she once turned over her dining room table and used its legs to create a loom and has used broom sticks to knit with. Yet Sheila’s dynamic and somewhat mysterious personality aligns itself well with her innate ability to interact with an audience, interpret possibilities and yet retain some privacy about her business of producing art.

When fiber artists take the privacy of a women’s bra to public art space, there’s plenty of humor and metaphors. Laura Jacobs transforms this feminine garment using everything from crab claws and fish heads to antique glass and mother of pearl and the results are artful fantasy. In fact, the creative conversion of bras into an art form has inspired numerous competitions and exhibits to successfully fundraise for breast cancer research. Many of these events are scheduled annually because they draw a big crowd, enjoy lots of press, stir plenty of smiles and positively contribute to a worthwhile cause. And when your old bra is worn out, maybe it’s time to give it a second life as a handbag. Many crafters are having fun with this approach and step by step instructions are available on the web.

A new approach for extreme fiber artists is knitted graffiti. Also called yarn bombing, it has transformed public spaces with color and texture and warmth. Think that lamppost doesn’t need a sweater or tree trunks aren’t yearning for a new soft cover? Well some guerilla knitters and crocheters have decided this for you. The movement started with a group of Texan artists led by Magda Sayeg who formed Knitta in 2005 to bring rich, colorful fiber experiences to the urban landscape. Having installed work around the United States, Magda also ignited her creative fiber sparks in London, Sydney, Rome, Milan, Prague, Montreal, Mexico City and even atop the Great Wall of China. In honor of the 60th anniversary of Bergère de France, the first manufacturer of French yarn, Knitta was invited to Paris to "revitalize urban landscapes with knitted pieces". Now organized with a recent International Yarnbombing day (June 11, 2011), it’s a formal movement that has a global presence.

There’s no right or wrong in fiber art today; it’s all welcome expressions of new approaches to craft and to art. So maybe it’s time to put your patterns back in a drawer and build your fiber fantasies. Remember that there are no mistakes only many solutions and endless possibilities.

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!
~Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!

Monday, May 30, 2011

An Interview with TIM LEFENS: Painter, Art Activist

Tim Lefens has opened a new world for the severely physically challenged. As Founder and Executive Director of A.R.T.(Artistic Realization Technologies), he has pioneered new ways for this population to express themselves creatively through art. He has cognitively freed them and watched their self-esteem and sense of purpose blossom.  Tim’s own book, Flying Colors, is a testament to the power of his work. At 57, Tim has been blind for years but his passion and dedication to the A.R.T. mission remains at full throttle.

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to talk with him.

Before you started A.R.T, you were actively involved in your own art as a painter. Did you have formal education and/or training in Art? Can you talk about your art now?

Yes, I went to art school and had a long string of great mentors including artists Roy Lichtenstein and Walter Darby Bannard as well as the renowned art critic Clement Greenberg . These were professionals who adopted me and helped tune in my understanding of art.

I won the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award for Painting and continue to paint. My shows have been in the New York Brooke Alexander and Farah Damji galleries as well as in New Jersey galleries. Current work can be seen on my website.

I’ve almost always been close to monochrome even when I had 20/20 vision. Also I have never really been into color but more focused on drawing and tactility. By just using your hands and imagination, you can feel the shape of the painting and know where you’re placing the built up paint. When it comes time to add color, I simply talk to someone to get the color I want.

What areas of the creative process does A.R.T. address? How are the components designed?

There is Painting, Sculpture, Music Composition, and Photography. The A.R.T. artists are in wheelchairs; often quadriplegic with limited speech so they need mechanisms that can adjust to them. In the painting program, they will wear headbands with a laser in the front. They direct the laser to a wall area where they can then select the brush size and color paint and a "tracker", (an able bodied assistant) facilitates their choice on the canvas at their direction which is again laser driven. In this way, painting is the least technical area because it only uses a laser; it’s a core basic program and the not expensive. The Music program works with our light actuated synthesizer with light sensitive diodes and costs thousands of dollars.

By interacting directly with an A.R.T. artist, I get ideas of how things should be done technically; for example, how the sculpture should move, how they can select the music notes. And I think about how that can be done with power. I have been fortunate to find engineers who have offered their services at very modest fees and have been able to develop the device. There are no patents for these devices; there are only prototypes and they have never been replicated.

Your A.R.T program involves recruiting physically challenged people to participate in the creative process, seeking financial sponsorships, and harnessing technology. Where are the greatest challenges?

After about 17 years of being on the road, our biggest challenge is in the perception of the able bodied. We manage to get some funding to keep going and have solved the problems of the population we are serving. However our challenge is not the quadriplegic non-verbal people; the challenge is how they are seen by the able bodied. So we are always working on this. If the physically challenged are thought of as incapable, then they are treated as incapable and there is no way out.

Who are your funders?

My funders include
the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which gave us both their Community Health Leadership and President's awards
The Kessler Foundation
The New York Community Trust
Johnson and Johnson
Morgan Stanley
Princeton University
The Llura Gund Foundation and
The National Endowment for the Arts

Your book, Flying Colors, talks about your personal and professional journey with A.R.T. It's quite extraordinary.

I was fortunate to have success with it; the book has now been translated in Chinese.

The A.R.T. program is now running in multiple locations around the country. Can you talk about that?

There are about 27 fully functional satellites including the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. Once we saw the breakthrough in 1994 and how easy it works and profoundly effective; we had a goal to be global. Our first trip was to California and then we went to New Mexico, Florida, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio. We will go anywhere we can. Some of these states have multiple sites. For example, in Florida, we have 7 sites, in Pennsylvania there are 2, Ohio has 1; each state is different.
We want the people running the sites to bond with us so we can provide guidance. Those who have realized that benefit have succeeded big time especially since talking to us does not cost them.

The sites sell paintings to help fund their programs but they also need grants. For exhibitions, I urge them to aim high; to have a show in a museum rather than a café. Art shows tend to move people who have the capacity to fund and successful examples are Little Rock, Arkansas and Jacksonville Florida which are selling hundreds of paintings. At both sites, we are in touch weekly.

For new sites, they find us or we find them. Then we assess their situation; they need a minimum of 5 people to launch the A.R.T. program. After months of pre education, once they’re ready we fly out. Then after we do the workshops on site, it is not unusual to hear the staff sobbing and leaving the room because they have been working with these people forever and now all of a sudden they’re alive. It’s very intense.

In A.R.T. exhibitions, some artists sell their work for substantial sums of money. How are they priced and do you court collectors

Pricing is tricky and basically it is what the market will bear. A high selling mark is about $2400. Our collectors include a former governor and other serious buyers. One collector, a marine supply company, has purchased over 70 paintings from our Jacksonville site to fill offices at corporate headquarters. Then once they were filled, they started shipping art pieces to their sister headquarters in the Netherlands. Now they are moving to Houston so we hope to open that market.

You have suffered with a vision problem and are now totally blind. This must be an extraordinary challenge for you to manage your work. How long had it been progressing and how do you manage A.R.T?

They don’t really know what the condition is but have labeled it retinitis pigmentosa. I was diagnosed in 1988 and had no visual aids. However, the miracle was the talking computer because I wrote the entire Flying Colors book without a computer screen. Window Eyes was the software I used to write; it was very fast and the editor did not change one word.

I do not accommodate or embrace my condition. I do not deny that I am blind but I do deny its presence. I also work in an absorption mode which is when you have something so fascinating in your life that it displaces thoughts of having a disability. So my approach is a unique combination of denial and absorption.

In a perfect world, what would you imagine for A.R.T ?

That A.R.T will be universally accepted and embraced. That we give the population that we work with and love not only respect, joy and freedom but it also wake up the able bodied. Everyone would realize that you cannot judge a person from the outside. Period.

To contact Tim and/or donate, please click here

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Hot pants. Bell bottoms. Mini skirts. Long skirts. Hand knits. Flat knits. Real fur. Faux fur. The fashion world is always changing. It starts with runway models strutting down the walk with very expensive clothes cut for their very thin bodies. It is fashion as art, not fashion as wearables for the masses. Still there is a trickle down factor when these pieces are economically replicated or “knocked off” (as the garment trade refers to them) and sold in a range of sizes to women eagerly waiting for their inner fashionista to be sated.

But there is also a writhing pulse of extraordinary fashion right on the street. New York City streets, that is. Bill Cunningham built his career capturing the wild and wonderful, the sublime and the ridiculous; people in their everyday lives wearing the extraordinary. His blue eyes are trained to spot the exceptional and he quickly shoots the photos that are later posted in the Style section of the New York Times. At 82 years old, he weaves his way in and out of traffic, bicycling around Manhattan to galas, events, fashion shows and parties. However he is notably positioned at the corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue watching and snapping candid yet legendary photos that are visual statements of both fashion bravado and wearable art. “It isn’t what I think, it’s what I see,” Mr. Cunningham says.“I let the street speak to me. You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell you what it is.”

Just released, Bill Cunningham New York is a brilliant 88 minute documentary that captures the essence of Bill’s stunning and singular career. Directed by Richard Press, it is a unique gift to those who wish to relish the success of eccentricity and talent.

It takes a combination of artful passion and courage to create fashion as a visual expression without attention to the buying audience. Fashion companies approach it in reverse. But Roberto Capucci is a brilliant and talented renegade and, at age 82, he has sustained his vision his way to achieve enormous success.

The first US compilation of his work featuring over 80 pieces as well as drawings is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and titled Roberto Capucci: Art Into Fashion. Capucci synergizes fabric, form, color and texture to sculpt the body silhouette. With an artist’s vision and an architect’s mind, he folds, layers and pleats fabric to create magical unforgettable dress forms. In fact, a woman choosing to purchase a piece from his collection (there is no duplication or alterations), must fit into it and realize that, when worn, she is a secondary element to her three dimensional fabric art The movement generated by wearing a Capucci enhances its allure in space; all rotations spin different views as it gracefully moves and turns with the wearer. Although he also designs daywear as well as accessories such as shoes and perfume, it was his museum quality costumes that have won him the Medal of Gold of Venice at age 26 and led to designing one-of-a-kind dresses for the most influential and affluent Europeans as well as American movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Swanson. "Having been a student of fine arts I perhaps ended up in fashion by mistake," says Capucci. "My dresses belong more to the art world than the world of fashion, but this has been my destiny."

Sometimes we can change our destiny. Judith Leiber was living in Nazi occupied Budapest and instead of being exterminated because she was Jewish, she became a survivor by escaping with her family to Switzerland.

Right after the war, she met and married an American soldier, Gerson Leiber, and they moved to the United States in 1948. After working for various handbag companies, she started her own business in 1963 with Gerson’s help. Now her spectacular handbags are one of the most sought after luxury brands and an elite status symbol owned by royalty, celebrities and First Ladies. Beverly Sills, the opera singer, was known to have a collection of almost 200 of Leiber purses. All of these artful handbags are meticulously crafted and beautifully styled. Leiber is well known for her minaudieres, which are usually covered in crystals and some with an animal theme can cost in excess of $5000. Recognized for her iconic work with numerous awards, she remarks “I was the first woman to receive a Coty Award, and it was the first time it had been given to anyone for a handbag.” Her unique purse designs are on permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. And in their own Leiber Collection Museum in East Hampton, established in 2005, which showcases hundreds of her handbags in addition to her husband’s art and their unique collection of Chinese porcelains.

In 1993, Judith sold her business to a London based company. She says “Half the success of a business is luck, and the other half is talent, and I managed to put that together, so we were very fortunate.” Now at age 89, she owns about 900 of her own bags although she created approximately 3500 different styles and says “We would love to have them all”.

All three of these talented octogenarians have sustained a long career in making fashion interesting and important. Their legacy lies in their devotion to their art form, their approach to making their work accessible and their vision that propels them forward so fashion history can be captured again and again.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
Coco Chanel

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Happiness is big business. Hundreds of thousands of books in print, billions of dollars spent in pills and psychotherapy visits, and yet it remains temporary and for some elusive. Mental health is based on responding appropriately to experiences and, with life’s ups and downs, no sane person can be happy one hundred percent of the time. So we fluctuate. We are happy, and then we are unhappy and then find happiness again. We desire euphoria even though it does not have the stability of an inanimate object or the permanence of a tattoo.

Happiness research provides surprising data. Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert says a year after a person wins the lottery and a year after a person becomes paraplegic and loses functions of his/her legs, their happiness quota is the same. Remarkable. He says research has shown that most traumatic events longer than 3 months past will lose their impact and duration with a person. Gilbert theorizes that it is our being able to synthesize happiness and that we adjust to create happiness. For example, in his article, Aging Artists on the Creativity of Their Old Age, Dr. Martin Lindauer quotes a female artist in her 60s: “I can no longer make very large projects, but making things can be rewarding also. My energy has diminished somewhat, and a lot of time has been lost recovering from surgery, but I have never stopped working. I have a compulsion to make things of my own design. I am fortunate in that my mind seems to be in tact.” This woman uses her positive attitude consistently by recognizing the problem, creating positive acceptance (synthesizing happiness) and moving forward with gratitude. It also exemplifies her flexible and resilient approach to living.

So we have opportunity to be happy through a genuine experience (eg. winning the lottery) or a synthetically adjusted experience. However happiness comes to you, numerous studies have shown that those who profess to be happy tend to be optimistic, unencumbered by failure or the unknown, more social and experience greater control of their lives. When you are feeling good, life is easier and more fun; the sun is always shining. It’s easier to tackle projects and anticipate success because failure and fear are not on your dashboard. To explore and discover, to socialize with others, and to be the positive rudder in your life, is empowering and enabling. We view life through a different lens.

Psychologist Adam Anderson’s studies have shown the value of being happy in our approach to processing information around us "With positive mood, you actually get more access to things you would normally ignore," he says. "Instead of looking through a porthole, you have a landscape or panoramic view of the world."

This is excellent fodder for creativity which requires unique thinking to incorporate sometimes disparate elements for an optimal solution. When you are feeling upbeat you can embrace your world, respond positively to elements and are therefore more open and flexible to integrating them. The creative experience provides challenge as well as satisfaction and often a sense of exhilaration. You are the owner, the maker, the problem solver.

Susanne Matthiesen, M.B.A writes about Virginia Hall, an older artist who responds to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice: "Do something every day that scares you." : A professional artist since her retirement, Hall continues to find exhilaration in the "scary" places of art. "I don't know of a better way to achieve a scary moment than to engage the creative process," she says.

Hall compares life to her artwork metaphysically. "It's somewhat of an illusion to think that you're making something. Oh, yes, you can paint a canvas or form a piece of clay. Ultimately, you're seeking a discovery," she says. "The point isn't the experience itself, but how it affects your sense of well-being and self-expression. Look within and around yourself."

Creativity is an integral part of aging well; it facilitates wellness through enhanced self esteem and socialization. Amy Gorman, author of Aging Artfully has profiled artists from 85 years to 107 years old and says “The women artists demonstrate for Boomers and the rest of us, that there are ways to promote healthy aging through a positive attitude.”

A positive attitude and a happy disposition are important in responding to the inherent hurdles of healthy aging. It is an active tool to combat everyday stress that can lead to depression and illness. Instead of seeing problems, contented people often perceive them as challenges to approach and overcome. Creativity is a tool that can fuel happiness and ward off depression. A study co-sponsored by George Washington University and the National Endowments for the Arts found that adults aged 65 and over who were continuously participating in arts programs were documented to have fewer doctors’ visits, require less medication and were less apt to be depressed.

We cannot simply turn on and off the happiness switch inside ourselves but we can strive to find happiness in our lives as much as possible. It feels great, promotes our creative thinking and benefits our health. The old adage “Don’t worry, be happy” is a great mantra for us all.


This article was originally published in the November-December 2010 issue of Aging Today, the bimonthly newspaper of the American Society on Aging, San Francisco, Calif.