Amy, Seattle, WA

Amy L. Harris is a recreational therapist and watercolor painter in Seattle, WA. We spoke about how she found art and her job in her studio in Building C in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, WA. 

 
     "When I am painting it is kind of a slow process. When I discover something is done, I have to be patient and calm and maybe sleep on it, and then come back the next day and really decide if it is done. I still have paintings here that are not done...but I have more painting that are overdone...because I wasn't able to relax and look at the images coming through. When I started painting I was traveling a lot, so I have always used watercolors. It is a very easy medium to be able to use. All you need is a little bit of water. Now that I have worked with water color for so long...it behaves so differently from other paints, so I have just stuck with it." 
      "Since I was a kid I have always been the class clown. When I was in high school, my first job was being Chuckie Cheese... I wore the costume. It was so much fun. I couldn't believe that I was getting a job where I had to wear a costume! I mean you know, whose gonna get paid for that!? It was so much fun. I vaguely remember sitting in for the interview, and it was almost like, ‘Yeah of course you're hired if you are willing to wear this!’ And they were paying me $3.62 an hour or something like that. It was super fun."
     "After that I was working at a nursing home. I think incorporating that sense of play into my work, was important to me because it helped me enjoy my life, but also, working with seniors at the nursing home just a few blocks up from my house...I think somehow the two are related. I ended up being a nurses aide with people suffering from dementia and you know… they say the funniest things! That sense of play and joking around came way before my painting. Now I think the two worlds are colliding… Not necessarily because I am doing painting with my patients, but because of the creative aspect. I think that in our society we don't have enough creativity. It doesn't seem to be the go to, to have a creative outlet in our lives. You know… people say… ‘ok, do you have a job, are you married, do you have a place to live, do you excercise?’ People do not say ‘do you have a creative outlet?’ It's not something that is seen as necessary... but to me it is. And I feel that is a message that needs to be held through to people who deal with dementia."
     "You know I do a lot of things in my life, so there is an inclination to feel like I am doing too much... maybeI should give-up this or that. I have another job that I am working at that is not primarily dementia, I am an athlete and I have all these other things in my life. I feel really dedicated to continue to have these experiences with people. Especially because I know there are so many people that live with dementia who have gotten to a point where they are not verbal any more. I feel like I carry around a key to connect with them. I feel driven to continue to make those connections.
     Currently I have a patient that comes to mind, that I feel is very attuned to her auditory sense. When I am making animal sounds with her, or playing an old song, I can begin to massage that sense for her. She seems to relax, and will have moments of hysterically laughing, or even crying. I go to her house once a week. I hope that I am tapping into something with her that doesn't maybe happen for her regularly. I feel very fortunate to be able to be a person that can connect with them in this way. I frequently work with them when there is a family member around or a friend, and at the end of the session, quite often people will say ‘oh my gosh, that was so amazing’. Sometimes I feel like I am sort of a horse whisperer...but more like the dementia whisperer. I have been doing it for a long time and I feel very fulfilled in making these connections with these people." - Amy H.