By REBECCA SLOAN
WARREN -- In all his 90 years, woodcarver Frank Verbanic never thought of himself as an artist.
Never, that is, until he strolled through the Butler Institute of American Art a few weeks ago and beheld an exhibit that featured a few animals he had carved from wood.
Seeing his handiwork showcased in a classy museum, sandwiched between gilded-framed paintings and sophisticated sculptures, made quite an impression.
"It was pretty darn nice ... a real thrill. I'm starting to think of myself a little differently now," he said with a grin.
Verbanic isn't the only one grinning or rethinking his artistic abilities.
He's just one of several residents of Shepherd of the Valley facilities in Trumbull and Mahoning counties to be toying with the title of artist since seeing their artwork on display at the Butler.
The exhibit called "The Fine Art of Aging" showcases about 160 pieces created by Shepherd of the Valley residents and it received such a warm reception at the Butler that it is now featured in Forum Health Trumbull Memorial Hospital's Laird Gallery as part of the Arts for Forum Health TMH program.
The exhibit opened Thursday in the hospital gallery for the next three months.
Dispels myths: JoAnne McCliment, director of community relations for Shepherd of the Valley, is thrilled the exhibit has been so warmly received and hopes it will help to dispel some popular myths about aging.
"People are surprised that this artwork was done by older people," McCliment said.
"The exhibit helps to send the message that retirement isn't a time to sit back and do nothing. It proves that the retired years of a person's life can also be a time when that person is productive and creative."
McCliment believes the exhibit's appeal also is enhanced because it features artwork in a variety of mediums by artists of every skill level.
For example, there are paintings of professional quality beside simple but striking paintings done by residents with Alzheimer's disease.
Some that look like they were done by professionals were actually done by residents from the Shepherd of the Valley Poland facility who didn't start to paint until they retired.
Besides paintings, the exhibit also features photographs, embroidery, flowers fashioned from ribbon, sculptures, woodcarvings, braided rugs and even macram & eacute;.
Fewer inhibitions: TMH's Mary Beth Wensel said the exhibit is refreshing because older artists typically do not have the inhibitions of younger ones.
"The older years of a person's life are often like a second childhood, and this shows in their work, which is impulsive and daring. Older artists aren't afraid to use colors or textures other people might call wrong," Wensel said.
The exhibit also has historical value because it illustrates crafts and styles of art that have been in vogue during the last 50 to 100 years.
"All art records history to some degree and this exhibit definitely shows a lot about what has been in the hearts and minds of people during the last century," she added.
Lifelong craft: For example, 104-year-old Carrie McFadden, a resident at the Niles Shepherd of the Valley, cross-stitched a poem praising good morals and strong character.
McFadden, who was born Oct. 18, 1896, in Pennsylvania, learned to cross-stitch from her mother around age 6. Until losing the sight in one eye about a year ago, McFadden had continued to practice the craft, but like Verbanic, also a Niles facility resident, she had never considered her handiwork an art form.
"I was surprised to have it displayed at the Butler. It was just something I learned as a girl and always did," McFadden said.
McCliment says the exhibit not only challenges observers to rethink how they perceive the retired years of life, but also challenges retirees to rethink how they perceive themselves and their pastimes.
In a different light: For example, Alma Semple, 88, was flabbergasted when her macram & eacute; was included as part of the exhibit.
"I have been doing this type of work for about 50 years, but I didn't know why people would want to look at it in a museum, but then I started to think maybe it was interesting," she said.
When its time is up at Trumbull Memorial Hospital, the exhibit moves to Trumbull Family Court for three months and then possibly to Youngstown State University.
"We never expected the exhibit to go this far, but we are very pleased that it has," McCliment said.