Over the last 4 years, Elsie Sano, a 101 year old resident of Ida’s Rest Home in the Richmond district of San Francisco, has never missed her weekly 2-hour Art With Elders class. Elsie, the eldest of nine children, was a strong and outspoken caregiver of her younger siblings. According to her daughter Aiko, she has always lived true to herself and was not one to conform to society’s limitations for women of her time. One of her sisters, Bette Omi, also lives at Ida’s. Longtime San Francisco residents, Elsie and her family have run a popular business called Gazebo Flower Shop on 3rd and Clement over several generations, despite the fact that Elsie and her children endured the difficult times of Japanese internment at Tulle Lake Camp. Her daughter, Aiko, and grandson, Craig, continue to operate the family business.
Turning 102 in August, Elsie, who is from Marysville, CA, was not an artist before retiring to Ida’s, but has taken to the art classes offered through Art With Elders. She communicates with her instructor by reading from a dry-erase board and speaking her answers as she has difficulty hearing. “Elsie is always focused and ready to take on the challenges that making artwork offers” says her instructor, Darcie O’Brien, who has been working with Elsie over the last 4 years and as an Artist Instructor for AWE since 2012.
Darcie’s goal is to deepen the relationship with Elsie and other elders and to provide an opportunity for self-expression. Darcie works with Elsie to determine what subjects interest her and to create a sketch which Elsie completes using watercolors or colored pencils, her preferred media. Elsie’s artistic success can be measured, not only by improvement in her skills, but also by her active and purposeful engagement in this late stage of her life. She is one of 450 elders artists working with AWE who are developing their creativity and sharing it with the community at large. Elsie’s drive to continue to improve her art is an inspiration to us all!