95-year-old finds artistic voice at Highland Park Nursing and Rehab
Highland Park Nursing and Rehab resident Beatrice Speise, 95, made most of her bracelets herself. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 14, 2013 9:18AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Beatrice Speise has always had an artistic streak, but it mostly was apparent in the needlepoint, crochet and other crafts she pursued as hobby.
She even taught art as an after-school extracurricular activity to children at Solomon School on Chicago’s north side.
But no one imagined that Speise, who is almost 95 years old, had a natural gift as a painter until she showed up for an art class at the Highland Park Nursing and Rehab Center after arriving there in mid December.
Class members were shown a painting of a tree in full fall colors and asked to replicate it in acrylic.
“As I was explaining how to mix colors, she just went off on her own and started layering colors to make this beautiful fall foliage painting,” said Lynn Faber, the center’s director of activities.
“It was evident that Beatrice has a natural ability to interpret color, using a sophisticated technique of layering transparent washes of both cool and warm colors to give her tree both depth and vibrancy,” Faber added. “It is exciting that Beatrice discovered that she has another artistic talent she can use to express herself and share with others.”
Speise, who lived in Libertyville until last year, pointed out that it was the first time she tried painting.
“I started out to be a beautician,” said Speise, noting the Depression got in the way and she wasn’t assertive enough at that time to ask a relative to advance her money to go to school.
“Look at me now. Oh, baby,” she said of her ability to speak her mind. “I like myself a lot better.”
Speise was astounded by all the attention her artwork has received at the Highland Park Nursing and Rehab Center, which actually is located in Highwood..
“I didn’t think it was so special until people started telling me how beautiful it was,” she said. “I thought I was going to blow the roof off of this place.”
She attributes her newfound artistry to the change in her environment. So does Speise’s daughter.
“This is the most active she’s been in a long time,” said her daughter Arlys Shikora, of Vernon Hills. “I think this place has really given her motivation.”
Shikora said her mother always had gorgeous penmanship in the Palmer method of handwriting, but arthritis and other issues intervened.
“Now she’s writing ‘thank you’ notes,” said Shikora.
For her second painting effort, Speise chose the medium of colored pencils to draw a butterfly similar to a metal sculpture that is in her room at the center.
“I wanted it to stay perfect so I took cornstarch and rubbed it in like a massage to fill in all the tiny pores,” said Speise. “Then the other day, I just had this itch to do something with my hands, so I picked up my lipstick and a piece of paper and made this lovely Valentine.”