While each season is heralded by the state of leaves on trees or the length of sun in the sky, birds sing to the change of seasons within returns and departures familiar to their time. Cedar Waxwings perch in the Hawthorns of late winter, Red-Winged Blackbirds call to spring from bulrushes, and Brown Creepers climb up summer’s trees. Cardinals and Chickadees remain constant companions throughout the fullness of the year.
Stuck to windows, planted on poles, or hanging from trees, bird feeders have encircled Perley Health for years. Flitting around feeders and perching on window ledges, birds offer the satisfaction of their presence to the residents contemplating them from within. In grateful return, residents and their families ensure that their feeders remain faithfully filled with suet and seed. Between bird and resident, there exists a nourishing reciprocity held within the most delicate and fleeting of encounters.
While often offering the satisfying gift of considering the present moment, during the COVID-19 pandemic, birds shared a new gift with the residents of long-term care: solidarity in understanding the need to nest and fly free.
The exhibition Wingspan features artworks made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by long-term care residents at Perley Health in Ottawa, Ontario. Through a variety of art mediums – painting, sculpture, and ceramics – residents, assisted by the Perley Health Creative Arts staff, have been exploring their recent life experiences through the lens of birds and bird behavior.
Highlighting Perley Health residents’ special relationship with birds, Wingspan explores how birds have been a reassuring touchstone during the past two years of the pandemic – in the metaphors they invite, the mindfulness they offer, and the concrete acts of care they require. Yet, this is also a connection that reaches back before the pandemic at Perley Health. Staff from the Ozerdinc Grimes Family Therapeutic Recreation and Creative Arts Program have been assisting residents in the creation of birdhouses and feeders in the studio’s woodshop since first opening twenty-five years ago. These handbuilt birdhouses and feeders find their place in Perley Health courtyards, the crooks of trees on campus, and are sent to the homes of loved ones as gifts. The Perley has been sustaining and growing its relationship with birds for decades as they are a strong and enduring reminder of the simple and the good of life.
Wingspan wrestles with questions of fragility and resilience, patience and frustration, intuition and persistence, during the time of COVID-19. By giving expression to the affective realities of life in long-term care during the pandemic, Wingspan reveals the importance of art therapy and art programming in healthcare. During the creation of this exhibition, community and companionship were found, and reflections were shared that honoured the solidarity between residents, and the wisdom of winged friends.
Perley Health and the Ottawa Art Gallery are proud to partner with Birds Canada and the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre to present Wingspan. Thanks is offered to these organizations for their support that brings visibility to long-term care residents, birds, and the healing relationships that can emerge through care, empathy, and the creation of art.
Gratitude is given to Gillian King, Art Therapy Candidate and member of the Perley Health Creative Arts team, who envisioned the possibilities of this exhibition, as well as Michael Davidge, Manager of Learning and Engagement at the Ottawa Art Gallery, for his thoughtful collaboration in bringing Wingspan to life.
Ross Imrie, Studio Lead, and Creative Arts Instructors Andréa Fabricius, Geneviève Lemieux-Crombie, Cynthia Norman, Cynthia O’Brien, and Tonya Parriag, are celebrated for their dedication, skill, and compassion which has brought this project into realization.
Finally, enduring gratitude for the Perley Health residents who have created this art, and the birds that have inspired it.
- Jessie Stephenson, Spiritual Health Practitioner
Perley Health (Ottawa, On)
Image: Elizabeth Fawley, Exilda Laurin, Gabrielle Sincennes, Howard Lindsay, Ina Mackenzie, Kathleen Cronier, Paul Louiseize, Sandra Sgarbossa, & Yolanda Robertson, Under Our Wings, 2022, clay. Courtesy of the artists. Photo Credit: Andréa Fabricius