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Children and seniors are collaborating on a heartwarming art project in Oconomowoc

This summer in Oconomowoc, kids and seniors are working together on a special art project that will be revealed in the fall.

Listen along with the story below.

It’s art day at the Shorehaven senior community in Oconomowoc.

That’s where we meet Al. He and the other seniors are rolling out clay on tables in a big multipurpose room. Al is all set to go -- he’s wearing a paint-stained denim apron.

"Have you worked with clay before?" I ask.

"Yes," Al says with a laugh. "I'm a former art teacher."
He is getting some help today. A busload of soon-to-be fourth graders is teaming up with the seniors here. Al’s partner is 9-year-old Ridley.

"I came to him because he had an art smock on," Ridley says.

The pair cut out butterflies from the rolled out clay, each one representing a resident who has passed away. They'll eventually be painted, glazed and displayed permanently at the center.

In addition to the butterflies, Al and Ridley are quickly becoming friends.

"He's really funny, and he is teaching me new art techniques that I wouldn't really think of," Ridley says.

Linda Kohler is the president of SHARP Literacy, the nonprofit organizing today’s visit.

"It's amazing because I think the seniors get really excited," Kohler says. "We do a similar program in Milwaukee, and out program  -- SHARP Literacy -- is in both Milwaukee and Waukesha county"
She says the intergenerational art program is a win-win. She sees the seniors light up working with children, and the kids get a fun and creative field trip.

Back at the art table, pictures of real butterflies are printed out for the students to reference. Ridley is having a little trouble getting hers to match the picture.

"I'm kinda a little upset because, I don't know what to call them, but their ears, it's not really looking realistic," Ridley says.
And that’s when Al steps in, turns over the guide sheet so it’s just a blank white page, and offers a little wisdom. He is a career artist and teacher after all.

"If they look at

and made a butterfly that was there, that's not their butterfly. That's some other artist's or photographer's butterfly. This is theirs. That's where the beauty is," he says.

The kids will continue to work with the seniors, every week for the rest of the month. Al says, he can’t wait for next week.

"Working with children, that's what kept me young. I taught until I was 78-years-old, 55 years. They keep you young."

The finished butterflies will be affixed to an installation similar to a totem pole in the fall, and will be unveiled in a live butterfly release ceremony.

Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee