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New Canaan Inn Portrays Art of Masters Through Living Tableaux

New Canaan Inn Portrays Art of Masters Through Living Tableaux

Posted on May 5, 2009

the screaml'absinthedrinkerparkPearl Earringstatue of libertyTablaeaux KennedyTablaeaux Mona LisaTablaeaux WhistlerTableaux American GothicTableaux Bandaged Ear

New Canaan, Conn. –  New Canaan Inn, Waveny Care Network’s independent living residence, recently delighted the local community with their presentation of the “Living Tableaux,” a unique art event that featured ten resident models reenacting famous works of art.

As black drape curtains were pulled aside to reveal each living painting, an audience of more than 75 attendees was challenged to identify each work of art, artist, and a song played by volunteer pianist Justine McCurdy that accompanied the presentation of each piece. The ensemble included: 

  • Resident John Kennedy as iconic “Uncle Sam” from the vintage World War I poster You Are There by James Montgomery Flagg, accompanied by "You're in the Army
  • Volunteer Frank Haines as Vincent Van Gogh in his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, accompanied by "Vincent/Starry, Starry Night"
  • Resident Hilda Mollineaux and volunteer Wally Mead in Grant Wood’s American Gothic accompanied by The Farmer in the Dell"
  • Resident Mildred DeFelice as Mona Lisa in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait, accompanied by the songs "When You're Smiling" and "Mona Lisa" 
  • Resident Muriel Burns as the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, accompanied by "Tip Toe through the Tulips, in celebration of Vermeer’s Dutch heritage
  • Resident Carol Coyle as “Whister’s Mother” from James McNeil Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black:Portrait of the Artist's Mother accompanied by "Mother McCree" 
  • Resident Virginia Bender as Edgar Degas’ L'Absinthe Drinker accompanied by music from "Cabaret"
  • Resident Marilyn Shanahan in Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream accompanied by music by “The March of the Dwarfs,” a Norwegian song tribute to the artist
  • Resident Penny Locke as the woman featured in George Seurat’s Un Dimanche apres-midi a l'Ile de la Grande Jatte accompanied by "Let's Take an Old Fashioned Walk" 
  • Resident Louise Besson representing perhaps our nation’s most famous art icon, The Statue of Liberty designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi , set to the song "My Country 'tis of Thee"

 The art form known as tableaux vivants, or living pictures, originated centuries ago in Europe, but is perhaps best known today through the “Pageant of the Masters,” a celebrated annual event at the “Festival of Arts” in Laguna Beach, California.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for more than 10 years,” said Barbara Jeffries, assistant director of Resident Activities. “Finally this summer I thought, ‘what are we waiting for?’ and put up a notice on the activities bulletin board to recruit players. I had no idea what to expect or what kind of interest there would be among the residents, but to my delight nearly a dozen people showed up at our first meeting. From there on, the project evolved with a steady momentum of interest.”

The planning and meetings involved with the production were evidently just as enjoyable as the event itself, according to many Inn residents. “When Barbara told us her idea for this ‘living picture’ concept, we pored over album upon album of work by the great masters to decide which pieces we thought we could best use live models to depict. Since it was vital to pick pieces that people would recognize and remember, I came up with the idea to pose as the Statue of Liberty. While Lady Liberty isn’t a painting, she’s certainly one of our nation’s most iconic and important pieces of artwork, and I believe its always important to remember Emma Lazarus’ timeless words of freedom.”

According to Barbara Jeffries, one of the most challenging – yet exciting – aspects of making the production a success was the intense collaboration involved. “With its mass of posted notes reading things like ‘Does anyone have a black umbrella?’ and ‘Can someone lend a single pearl earring?’ our bulletin board looked like a page in the classifieds,” said Jeffries. “But fellow residents were happy to lend a hand quickly and consistently. A lot of closet rummaging was certainly done on our behalf.”

“Piecing together the costumes was my favorite part,” said Louise Besson. “As far as my costume went, I made the torch out of an old paintbrush, a piece of cardboard and tissue paper. But, we needed to collect so many different things from different people and the process was more or less a scavenger hunt that took place over time. Every two weeks we would hold a meeting and discuss our most recent needs and finds. We had an awful time finding a monkey for the Seurat piece, and an even harder time finding a wig for Mona Lisa. But, in the end we found everything we needed thanks to everyone being so supportive, helpful and enthusiastic from beginning to end.”

According to Jeffries, one performer wasn’t feeling well the evening of the performance and required a last-minute substitute. “I was really just supposed to be a stage hand,” said resident Virginia Bender. “But when I heard there might be a blank space in the program, I looked at the painting L'Absinthe Drinker and said to myself, ‘I could do that!’ I had a wonderful time and am so pleased to have been able to participate in such a special presentation.”

“All in all, the presentation was very, very good, if I may say so myself,” said Bender. “It was a fairly ambitious project to even consider doing, but between the costumes, practice and following the piece as close as we could, I think that each ‘tableau’ ended up looking very authentic.”

“The smiles on the faces of everyone in the audience made every moment of our efforts and planning worth it,” said Jeffries. “Our residents, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, derived so much pleasure from this new and challenging undertaking. It was fun, it was creative, and above all, it was something very different for us to share with the community.”

Located at 73 Oenoke Ridge in New Canaan, New Canaan Inn offers independent living through Waveny Care Network, a comprehensive continuum of healthcare that serves the growing needs of older adults from all areas. Waveny is a not-for-profit organization that also offers assisted living for people with Alzheimer’s and memory loss at The Village and skilled nursing and inpatient and outpatient Rehabilitation Services at Waveny Care Center. It also includes the Brown Geriatric Evaluation Clinic, a Geriatric Care Management team that provides 24-hour coverage, an Adult Day Program available six days a week with flexible hours and transportation from New Canaan, Stamford, Norwalk, Darien and Wilton, and respite and hospice care programs at The Village and Care Center. For more information call (203) 594-5200 or visit www.waveny.org.