STOUGHTON — Joy showed up in the lobby of the Copley at Stoughton nursing home on Sumner Street 12 days before Christmas.
Music played. Eggnog and cookies were served. And while a mural of a scene from a Norman Rockwell illustration was unveiled, the nursing home administrator and activities director made congratulatory speeches.
What had been 24 separate panels, each measuring 16 inches by 20 inches, was being revealed as a whole for the first time.
Fifteen residents and almost twice as many staff oohed and aahed. A few cried.
“I feel like an artist. It’s something to be very proud of that I never knew I had in myself,” said Kathy Zabroski, 66.
Residents of the Copley have been painting for more than four years, ever since Cheryl Woodward, the activities director, and Barbara Lumsford, a social worker at the home, attended a paint night event and decided to hold painting classes for the residents.
It started as a monthly activity where residents painted on separate canvases. It became a weekly class and a collaborative venture after Steve Tyer, the administrator, put in an order for a reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” now hanging in his office.
Each work is different, but it typically starts in the same way: Woodward projects a scene on a clear plastic sheet and traces it on the canvases, figuring out the colors and passing the panels around. She has identified who is good with fine detail, who has a talent for painting skies, and who is skilled at backgrounds, and assigns the various tasks accordingly.
Everyone has a hand in the project.
When they began, though, some of the artists had never held a paint brush. Some couldn’t see. Others lacked dexterity.
But all of them were eager to contribute what they could.
Now, a new mural goes up in the nursing home lobby every three months, and the one it replaces gets moved to another part of the building. Sometimes they go farther: One was recently hung at the town library.
Popular subjects are the four seasons and holidays. But Woodward scours the Internet for ideas and often combines scenes to create something new.
“There is magic when they go through the doors to the art class, and miracles are being made,” said resident Joanne Praik, 94, who once worked as a secretary for a women’s organization called Aglow International. “I see women go in looking down, and when they leave class they’re all smiles.”
Woodward says her greatest reward is seeing how happy painting makes the residents.
“They’re so content when they’re there, very relaxed,” she said. “I tell them, don’t worry about it. There are no mistakes in this room. … Just keep on going.”
Edith Gennaco, 94, is one of the late bloomers. A former stitcher at a Brockton clothing manufacturer, she had never painted and wasn’t sure that she could. But curiosity got the better of her.
“I asked if there was something I could do,” Gennaco said, sitting in the lobby after the recent unveiling and admiring her painting of a little boy stuffing a pillow into his red Santa Claus pants, a separate canvas hung next to the mural. “She [Woodward] said I probably had the ability.”
There was no stopping Gennaco after she discovered that the sharp eye and attention to detail that had made her a skilled seamstress would be useful as a painter.
“I liked it and took my time,” she said.
Meanwhile, every encouraging word has helped to boost her confidence.
“When I asked [Woodward] if I did a good job, she said it was coming along very good,” she said. “I was happy, so happy.”