When Nyla Witmore and her husband decided it was time to move from their large family home in Boulder to a retirement community, Nyla’s first criteria weren’t excellent food, a spacious apartment, or engaging social programs (although she appreciated all of those traits, too) . Instead, her main wish for her new home was the Northern Lights.
As a professional artist who has taught, painted and lived in Boulder for more than three decades, Witmore longed for a home that minimized distractions and, yes, provided ideal lighting. She explained: “I love having perfectly balanced Northern Lights, a must for a painter.” She and her husband, a retired businessman, found the right place for them – and for their art The carillon at Boulder Creek, the upscale, luxury hotel-style senior living community tucked between Folsom Field and the University of Colorado Boulder east campus. “I knew I could focus more here,” she said. The Witmores rented two adjoining one-bedroom apartments on the north side of The Carillon, one for their residence and the second for an art studio. “From our balcony we can watch people rafting down the creek and watch people learning to play tennis and walking back and forth along the way. We look at nature. When winter comes and the leaves fall, we face the Front Range; The view is terrific.”
Creativity in the carillon
Life at The Carillon was good for Witmore and her art. A past president of the Boulder Art Association, she attended Boulder’s Open Studios for years and continues to paint weekly with the Plein Air Artists of Colorado. Her work, which is exhibited in galleries internationally, is mostly representational and impressionist in style, and she enjoys capturing intimate landscapes while creating “a feeling but also an interpretation of the scene in front of me,” Witmore said. She added, laughing, “My work was a great excuse to travel.” Nonetheless, at the Carillon, Witmore prefers to “be one of the group” and “inspire others to express their creativity,” whether by doing it curating a gallery wall or encouraging her roommates in their imaginative pursuits, she said. Although she paints a few hours most days in her studio, she religiously attends Tuesday art classes at The Carillon, taught by resident and former public school art teacher Mary Hamlin.
“Mary’s approach is very liberating and exploratory,” Witmore said. “In community life we have residents with some artistic experiences and others use their free time to discover or develop hidden artistic skills. Both experienced and novice participants come together once a week to explore creativity. I’ve seen significant growth in the three years we’ve lived here.” Even her 57-year-old husband, who never picked up a brush before moving to The Carillon, attends classes. “And he’s happy about it,” Witmore said.
Hamlin’s welcoming and adventurous approach to art reflects The Carillon’s ethos. After all, The Carillon is about empowering and stimulating the whole person, from fitness classes and speaking engagements to brain teasers and book clubs, noted Bryan Sanchez, Carillon Community Sales Manager, so the arts program fits intuitively into community life.
Hamlin started her class about nine years ago. “When I first came to The Carillon we had some crafts and fun little paints, that’s it. I started the program and it took off immediately,” she recalls. “We’re people who are willing to try, look at great art, talk about the composition, and then say, ‘Maybe we can try to work like this person.'” The class experiments with extensive media, including Pencil drawings, acrylic, pen and ink, print, collage and small sculptures.
“Art allows us to think bigger than the obvious, to expand our world to really be more observant and sensitive to expressing and reacting to our feelings,” Hamlin said. “I tell them to ‘show me what you see,’ and there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”
Art for brain health
The carillon’s focus on residents’ creativity can also support physical health, Witmore said. “Creativity employs a different part of the brain, and as we get older it’s so important that we stimulate more sites in the brain to keep the brain healthy and keep depression at bay.”
Comparing the cognitive benefits of creating art to exercise, Witmore said, “My balance has improved by 75 percent since taking the exercise classes here, and my husband and I are both healthier than when we moved in three years ago. The fitness and balance classes include brain training and that improves everything.”
A treasure chest full of life stories
Witmore came to art professionally late in life and did not seriously study painting until her 40s. She practiced briefly as a speech pathologist, cared for her sons, wrote full-time, and published three books before “discovering that I had some talent and started adult education,” she said. Her work soon attracted students and galleries such as the SmithKlein Gallery on Pearl Street.
“Stories like mine,” Witmore said, “are one of the most important parts of The Carillon.” She explained, “It’s like this treasure chest that gradually unfolds as we learn more about each other and discover these interesting people and stories.” Several other Carillon residents are dedicated to the arts, including a former CU professor who regularly gives piano recitals at the The Carillon there, and a former art professor and museum curator.
To celebrate residents’ skills and encourage artistic development, Witmore was asked to organize a gallery wall at The Carillon. Mounted works by selected local artists are shown on the wall every few months and the residents are given the opportunity to create a thematic exhibition. In addition, The Carillon dedicates a wall to Hamlin’s art classes and showcases the residents’ recent projects. “There’s so much encouragement and stimulation here,” Witmore said. “The Carillon encourages older and newer residents to continue to use the talents they already have.”
Finally, Witmore said: “Everyone puts off moving into senior living, but we’ve realized it’s wiser to scale back while you still have the energy. I was an avid gardener for years and my wrists were tired from pulling weeds. I chose art.”
To schedule a tour or learn more about the opportunities for creativity and personal development at The Carillon at Boulder Creek, email Sanchez at [email protected] or call 720.565.6844.