Rafe Schwimmer – Artist

Rafe and Paula Schwimmer are a remarkable couple.  Rafe is a perfectly delightful man who lives with Early Onset Alzheimer’s.  Paula is an equally delightful woman, determined that Rafe lives with fulfillment and takes an active role in the life of his family and his community.

The first time I met him, I told him how much I loved his artwork.  He gleamed with pride.  “We could run away together,” he whispered.  Once, looking at one of his paintings, I saw a duck.  He gently corrected me, “It’s a heart.”  And so it was.

Now their son Eli has created a wonderful account of his father’s journey as an artist.

Two years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 63. He had to stop working and driving, and socializing became increasingly difficult. It took time, but my mom eventually found a creative aging program in our area and convinced my dad to try some painting and drawing classes. The images in this gallery are some my favorites.

Art has given my dad an opportunity to express some of the things that are hard to talk about or put into words. When I look at his pictures, I see his emotions come through the on the page – his energy, curiosity, sense of humor, and sometimes his sadness, confusion or fear. (side note – this is his interpretation of one of the dancing balloon guys.

Creative aging classes have made a huge difference for my dad’s mental health. Not only do they give him an outlet to express himself, but they keep his brain focused and engaged.

The creative aging programs have also helped with the feelings of isolation that are often felt by people with memory loss. My dad now has a safe space where he can meet people who understand what he’s going through. He told me that this is a drawing of someone from one of his art classes.

He really likes eyes. That’s his thing. There’s usually at least one eye-like object in every one of his drawings, and he usually starts his drawings from the eye and works outward. I see about 8 eyes in this picture.

Colors everywhere. Pastels are my dad’s go-to medium. He’s also a big fan of bright colors and wavy lines.

 This is his latest drawing. After I scanned it in, I asked my dad if I had it upside down. He said, “That’s what I like about art. It doesn’t need an up or down. It can be however you want to see it.”

Absolutely gorgeous.

Thank you Rafe, Paula and Eli.