A bit of color, brushstrokes enliven days in Dormont

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Sister Mary Jaskel retired at age 86 and wondered what she was going to do with her time.

Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Delores Smay, of West Mifflin, left, gets a little advice from Dorothy Aitken, of Carnegie, in a Primary Colors Art Guild session at the LifeSpan Hillsdale Senior Resource Center in Dormont. Vicki Bishop, of Upper St. Clair, is in the background, right.
Click photo for larger image.

Then she heard about the art classes offered by LifeSpan in Dormont and decided to pursue her interest in art. "I wanted to see if I have artistic ability," she said.

Classes meet Wednesdays and Thursdays at LifeSpan's offices in the Dormont municipal building on Hillsdale Avenue and are part of a curriculum which includes aerobics, tai chi and quilting.

The art students are preparing for the third annual Spring Art Event, featuring exhibits, sales and fund-raisers, to be held at the center from 6 to 9 p.m. May 13 and noon to 4 p.m. May 14.

Like others in the class, Jaskel speaks highly of instructor Pat DiPippa and thinks the other students there are congenial and good company.

But her current problem was that she was unhappy about the appearance of the seagull she created for a painting of a sea landscape. "My bird doesn't look alive," she told DiPippa.

As usual, DiPippa had the solution.

"Use light and shadow. It can make an old rag look like a thing of beauty. Nothing in the world is really ugly once you put light and shadow on it."

And, typically, the other students were supportive. One woman told Jaskel she liked the way the seagull looked as it was.

Jaskel, of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God, taught in Hartford, Conn., and at St. Francis Academy in Whitehall. She now lives in the convent near the former school. She was an archivist in charge of documents kept at the convent until she retired.

Her story is similar to the other LifeSpan students in that they also developed an interest in art later in life. Rich Harkins, of Mount Washington, worked in Duquesne Light Co.'s administrative offices and was always too busy to pursue painting as a hobby until his retirement.

Inspired by a photo his sister sent him, he is painting a picture of a cactus. He came to the class after being invited by a fellow student, Rita Williams, of Mount Washington.

"We all tend to lose ourselves in our love of our hobby," Williams said.

Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Detail of a painting by Dorothy Aitken of Carnegie in the Primary Colors Art Guild session at the LifeSpan Hillsdale Senior Resource Center in Dormont.
Click photo for larger image.

Joan Rastetter, of South Fayette, said she was friends for a long time with DiPippa, "who dragged me here." But then she "got hooked. It's a great escape from reality."

Rastetter's children love her work and lay claim to each new painting. "This one is mine," each tells her.

She has participated in the art show during the past two years. "You spend so much time creating these works that you grow attached to them. It's like a puppy. You want it to go to the right home."

The show is dedicated to the memory of one of their colleagues, Gladys Stander, of Brookline, who suffered from cancer and had to stop taking the class. She died in November.

DiPippa was a long-distance telephone operator who quit after eight years to raise her children. Over the years, she began taking noncredit art classes and read art books. She was asked to instruct classes at Community College of Allegheny County.

The LifeSpan class in Dormont that she was asked to oversee grew in popularity and over time was extended to two days a week. "We're really crowded at times," she said.

On this day, she walked around the room making suggestions and answering and asking questions. Students dabbled in pastel, water colors and oils.

"What color is your hair?" a student asked Jane Mitchell, of Dormont, a former waitress, during DiPippi's rounds.

"Tahitian red blond," Mitchell answered. The student decided to duplicate the shade for the hair color of a woman in her painting.

"In the last several years, I have learned so much. I'm usually able to figure out what is wrong with a painting," DiPippa said after a moment of reflection.

"Pat tells us what we need to know," Williams said.

For more, call Lifespan in Dormont at 412-343-6050, or 412-531-4804.

Al Lowe is a freelance writer.


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