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Finding the spark | Langley resident works to inspire caregivers through art show
Ivan Neaigus’ life as a caregiver is an unfinished canvas. Perhaps it will always be so.
His late wife, Sarah Letitia Wallace, died in 2012 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s, but the Langley resident is not yet ready to set aside the role.
Neaigus wants to give back to the community he has lived in for the past 30 years by helping caregivers bring the spark back into life for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. He’s developed a program, “Transitional Togetherness,” with friend Talia Toni Marcus that will highlight Wallace’s artwork in a show called “In Transition.”
“Finding that stimulus in their past life is the important thing,” he said.
Neaigus, a sculptor, watched Wallace shift into a passive state after her diagnosis in 2001. To encourage her to get back in touch with life, he began doing what she loves — creating art. Neaigus reassembled her art room and together they began sketching.
The results were astonishing. Wallace reengaged with life.
“For Sarah, it was a revival,” he said.
Her first sketch was completed in just two days.
Wallace used colored pencils as her medium and completed 45 images. Her last was never finished.
As an observer, Neaigus learned from his wife during this transition as well.
“Intuition is a strong element of anybody’s existence,” he said. “For people with Alzheimer’s, it becomes more magnified — the details matter less,” he said.
Wallace was often focused in her surroundings, without any mental distractions.
“It was a lesson for me, being around someone in the moment,” he said. “In effect, Sarah became my teacher in that way.”
Now, Neaigus hopes to help other caregivers going through a similar experience. His work places an emphasis on the caregiver because the patient is always a given, he said.
“A caregiver is in a different position, a conduit between life and the patient,” he said.
The message also resonated with Marcus, a longtime friend of Wallace and Neaigus. Marcus, a musician, began working with Neaigus developing music for Wallace’s work. She plays the violin, piano, viola and Tibetan singing bells.
“Talia added a tremendous element and made the work much broader,” he said.
Marcus said she hopes her work can help draw people in, and then inspire them to do something when they go home. Anything from gardening to dancing or even organizing buttons can inspire a person with Alzheimer’s, she said.
Through this work, Neaigus met two sisters who were caregivers for their father, also suffering from Alzheimer’s. After listening to Neaigus speak, they began to incorporate elements of something he used to love — campfires — into his life.
It was a breakthrough for the sisters, and their father began smiling more each day, he said.
“The intention of my work is to spark that and for the caregiver to understand the heart and creativity (of the patient),” he said.
The show at Brackenwood Gallery will feature giclee prints of Wallace’s artwork along with her paintings and photographs taken before the disease. The proceeds from the show will be donated to the “Time Together” program at the Bayview Senior Center, which Wallace attended for 10 years.
He hopes the show will inspire artists and show that their art can be a healing tool.
“The word art is precious, even the mundane things can be art,” Neaigus said.
He believes that when a person is putting something together that is intangible, they can get back in touch with life again.
The show begins at 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18 at the Brackenwood Gallery, 302 First St., Langley with a presentation at 6 p.m. A second presentation will be at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25.