“I love you. I’m frustrated.” The words are scrawled on two yellow pieces of paper, written in black and circled in red. This is the most lucid and comprehensive feeling that senior citizen artist Joan Murray is able to express through her art that is currently on display at the
Murray, a longtime resident of South Brunswick, suffers from dementia. Dementia is a loss of certain brain functions including memory, thinking, language, and behavior, according to the US National Library of Medicine.
Murray started painting and drawing when she was a young girl.
“I just took to it,” she said.
Until recently, her favorite things to make were animals, trees, and birds. But one of her more recent drawings caught her husband’s attention.
Joan’s husband, Dr. Paul Murray, thought it was remarkable that his wife recently broke the mold of painting animals and trees and drew a picture of Paul sitting at his computer. For Dr. Murray, this is an important development, because it shows that Joan has something new to say.
“It’s a form of speech,” he said, “Speech is too complicated a feeling to express. Drawing is important for her.”
Joan quietly echoed her husband, “It’s important.”
“Look at that,” Dr. Murray said, pointing at the man sitting at the computer screen. “That’s me! Isn’t that something?”
Dr. Murray brought Joan’s art to the senior center at the end of March to share it with their friends and anyone who wants to see it.
“It promotes understanding of Joan’s situation,” Dr. Murray said.
According to the “2011 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures,” there are approximately 150,000 New Jersey residents living with Alzheimers, which is a disease that can lead to and carries symptoms of dementia.
As Joan struggles with the degenerative disease, Dr. Murray pointed out how his wife’s regression is mapped out in her paintings.
Where once she would paint trees full of branches and flowers, now she draws harsh, lonely black tree trunks that stand in a nondescript field.
“It shows her loneliness, her isolation,” Dr. Murray said.
In all the uncertainty and suffering surrounding dementia, Joan has not lost her love for her husband. In a hefty stack of artwork old and new, Dr. Murray pulls out post-it notes that read “I love you, Paul.”
In some pictures, there are two hearts that have stems like apples. Inside the touching hearts is written “Joan” and “Paul.”
Joan’s art is on public display in the South Brunswick Senior Center on Ridge Road.