Exploring Art in Retirement

Exploring Art in Retirement

Seniors get a chance to pursue their passion.

Sallie Evans of McLean loves teaching art and helping students experience the job of creating art.

Sallie Evans of McLean loves teaching art and helping students experience the job of creating art. Photo courtesy of Falls Church Arts


Former clinical psychologist, Carolyn Jackson Sahni of Vienna, says her retirement has allowed her the opportunity to explore her love of art.

It was in third grade when Barb Cram first discovered her artistic talent. Her teacher asked to use one of her drawings as an example to teach a technique to other students.

Though she was lauded for her artistic talent from elementary school through high school, upon graduation, she says she put that interest on hold and engaged in educational pursuits that she was told were practical.

“When my generation was growing up, it was all about getting skills like typing, bookkeeping and stenography so that you could get a job after you graduate, said Cram, now 72.

After a long career, which included a stint in the White House, Cram has reengaged with her creative side. Now as President of Falls Church Arts, she is helping other retirees live out their passion, discover their talent or simply learn to appreciate art.

“Art can do so much for seniors. It’s like a vacation for the mind,” she said. “Whether as an artist, a teacher, a docent or an art student, there’s place for everyone.”

Retired clinical psychologist, Carolyn Jackson Sahni, spent her career practicing in settings ranging from state universities to non-profit organizations. Retirement has offered her the opportunity to explore her creative interests.

“I have never been employed as an artist or in a specific art related field, [but] art has always been my first love, said Jackson Sahni, who lives in Vienna. “I see art as our ultimate means of personal expression. I have an overwhelming preference for beauty and nature. Art has been my way of indulging this preference.”

Sahni says that art has given her the gift of living out her dedication to life-long learning. “I believe in … growing, expressing and discovering, she said. “While I am not quite ready to accept the definition of senior that I am, I cherish every day of my seventy-one years.”

Though she spent 32 years as a government employee working in a variety of agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and The Department of Homeland Security, Cynthia Miller had always wanted to explore visual arts. A few discouraging childhood experiences left her afraid to try.

“I have been interested in art my whole life, but my hands were frozen until I found my courage” she said. “I decided at age 70 that it was my time to learn and explore my desires as an artist.”

Not only is Miller an artist, but she volunteers her time as a docent, sharing her passion with others. “I often speak with others who are seniors with few outside interests,” she said. “They think I am brave in approaching my art as another career. I have a love of life, and feel I have a gift yet to develop and offer to others.”

McLean resident Sallie Evans once worked as a recreation therapist; in retirement she works as an art instructor at Falls Church Arts. “I love teaching because it allows me to be an active participant when students experience the joy and absolute empowerment of making art. Teaching not only children, she also leads art projects for Fall Church Art’s Memory Café, a social and recreational gathering of individuals with memory loss and their caregivers, friends, and family.

Deborah Conn, 70, retired from a career in marketing and began taking lessons in watercolor at the Art League in Alexandria. These days she’s an active and prolific artist. Her medium is watercolor, frequently on textured paper that she makes by crinkling tissue paper and gluing it on the painting surface. Humans are the subjects of most of her work, but as one of the resident artists at Palette2 restaurant in Shirlington, she sketches dogs for patrons while they eat.

“I’ve been experimenting with making parts of my paintings less defined so viewers can fill in with their own mind,” said Conn, who teaches art out of her home studio and works is an art curator. “In the last ten years or so, painting and art have become enmeshed in nearly every area of my life. Many of my closest friends are artists.”