An 112-year-old African-American man who has lived about half his life in Alabama mental health centers sounds like the subject of another sad tale of senior suffering, doesn't he? However, I was elated to read, in an Associated Press story by Kate Brumback, published in the August 12 Chicago Tribune, that this man, Frank Calloway, is about to have his work included at an October exhibit at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. How wonderful to read about yet another senior citizen following his passion and contributing to society!
It seems that Calloway uses ballpoint pens, markers, or crayons on sheets of butcher paper to "turn visions from his youth into lively murals." He draws colorful pictures of rural agricultural scenes, "with buildings, trains, and vehicles straight out of the early 20th century." Two years ago, the Kentuck Museum in Northport, Alabama, hosted a monthlong exhibition of his works. The works are described as representations of a rural, agrarian South in times gone by.
At the nursing facility where he lives, Calloway, usually wearing bib overalls, draws all day. "That's what he loves to do," said the facility director. Calloway, whose formal education ended in third grade, credits a long-ago teacher for getting him to draw, but it took an art class in the 1980's to get him drawing again.
Still getting around on his own and joining in nursing home excursions and restaurant outings, at 112, Frank Calloway seems to shatter conventional wisdom about older seniors. He plans to attend the Baltimore art show opening, his first airplane ride and probably his first trip outside Alabama. How proud and happy he must be!
Mr. Calloway is an amazing example of the possibilities for elders to follow their passions and remain connected to the world. Perhaps that's the secret of long, active lives.
Photo: by Dan Meyers. Courtesy of American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland