Artists have come to the rescue at Friendship Village of South Hills.
With a $10 million renovation to the commons area in progress at the Upper St. Clair retirement community, plenty of changes have taken place, including the placing of temporary drywall in some key locations.
"With all the white walls, there was an outpouring of 'Put something on the walls,' " said Kelly Michel, arts and communications coordinator at Friendship Village.
Her idea to fill a particularly large and conspicuous wall was to decorate it with works of art by residents. The result is a stunning display.
"There is a lot of talent living here," Ms. Michel said.
Interested residents were given 20-by-20-inch blocks of wood on which to create pieces using their preferred media, featuring a pattern or nature theme. Those pieces are interspersed with decorative blocks of various shapes and colors for a cohesive presentation that takes up most of a 40-by-12-foot wall that otherwise would be blank and bland.
"I think it pulled a lot out of people creatively," Ms. Michel said of the project, which she admitted got off to a rather slow start.
But soon residents, such as Ned Garnhart, stepped up.
"Once a couple of people did it, others started giving it a try," said the former Bethel Park High School art teacher, who now instructs classes at Friendship.
Helping to jump-start the project was Carol Gilfillan, a longtime artist who works in a variety of media, including pottery. Her contribution featured a couple of clay heads -- "pot people," as she calls them -- peeking out from the middle.
"The project was very interesting," said Richard Holan, who submitted three pieces of art, two of which are mounted together. "I think Carol and Kelly deserve recognition for the fact that it got finished."
While Mr. Holan has no background as an artist, he does have a lifelong interest in the subject, at one point serving as the only male docent for the Carnegie Museum of Art. Since moving to Friendship Village, he has been a prolific painter.
"I've done more painting in my six years here than I'd done in my preceding decades," he said.
As former superintendent of Mt. Lebanon School District, Allan Blacka said he didn't have much time to concentrate on art during his career. Then came retirement, and now he likes to concentrate on Scandinavian primitive art after attending a class led by Mr. Garnhart.
"I am now addicted," he said of the style, which resembles Pennsylvania Dutch art, as his contribution to the wall project attests.
Mary Mulhauser, whose career was in commercial art, completed a portrait of flowers in vases featuring a three-dimensional element.
"Just looking at the bland drywall, we figured we could have something nice people can look at instead," she said of the project. "I think all of us had our own creative touches in different ways."
Nancy Douglass cut a pattern into a piece of linoleum and inked it to make a print. A former Peters Township High School art teacher, she is enthusiastic about the resources available at Friendship Village for artists who want to continue pursuing their avocation.
"We have a wonderful art studio," she said. "It's an amazing facility to have here."
The studio is a spacious room, which is also being used for bingo during the renovation, that contains cupboards and drawers for residents to keep their art supplies. And the room is accessible whenever a bout of creativity strikes.
"People can go down in the middle of the night and work on a painting," Mr. Garnhart said.
Renovations to Friendship Village's commons area include an expanded auditorium with a meeting room, expanded fitness center and two new dining and lounge areas.
Harry Funk, freelance writer: email@example.com.