Ceramic Flower Garden at Miami Jewish Health is Home-Grown Art

September 4th, 2018
A field of one-of-a-kind ceramic flowers blooms outside Cypen Towers, a public art project created by Cypen Towers residents.

The stunning ceramic flower garden blooming in the roundabout outside Miami Jewish Health’s Cypen Towers is proof that age doesn’t define ability.

“To me, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen,” said Lawrence Rosenzweig, 87, a 5-year Hazel Cypen Tower (HCT) resident, who created at least 25 of the blooms.  “Age, in making this, is irrelevant. It’s just the want to do it.”

The Israel-inspired public art project was crafted by a group of 80 and 90-year-olds (and one 64-year-old) who worked tirelessly to create a legacy that will bring smiles to residents and visitors for years to come. Seventeen residents spent nine months making the 125 ceramic blooms that were “planted” in late August.

Afterwards, the “artists” posed for photographs beside their unique public art creation.

“You have to know, physical and mental age are not the same thing,” said HCT resident Ziril Szerlip, 91, who made several of the flowers. “Most of us never had time for any of this.”

The project was the brainchild of HCT art instructor B.J. Lang, who read about a ceramic flower garden in Israel created by 1,600 retirees from 70 senior centers. Lang suggested her ceramics class students create a similar but scaled-down version for display at Miami Jewish Health.

“I thought what a wonderful project for us to do,” Lang said.

The idea caught fire.

“She set people up and we got started,” Rosenzweig explained.

Some of the "artists" who created the Cypen Towners ceramic flower garden pose with the public art project after the blooms were "planted."

Project Required Time, Dedication and 150 Pounds of Clay

An eye-catching purple ceramic flower is one of 125 blooms crafted by retirees from Cypen Towers.

The project was no small undertaking. It required about 150 pounds of clay, a commitment of about nine hours per flower and a willingness to learn the ceramics-making process. Crafters had to cut out flower patterns, then mold, shape and paint clay that was subsequently fired twice in a kiln.

Some of the flower-makers had made ceramics projects before. For others, it was a completely new experience.

“I feel great accomplishment every time I do something,” said Irving Cypen Towers (ICT) resident Mildred Lemke, 90, who was new to ceramics. “I never thought it possible.”

Lemke had no desire to learn ceramics when she was young because it was something her mother had done and she wanted to be different. But learning the craft proved to be fun and participating in the project was a joy.

“It’s a lovely thing they can see every day outside and it’s very rewarding for everybody,” said ICT ceramics teacher Sheila Brew, who coached many of the crafters through the flower-making process. “The creative process and the reward of seeing what they have done is good for their well-being.”

“I love it and I feel very proud,” said Rosenzweig, as he mixed paint for another project. His latest idea? Make another 100 ceramic flowers for the opposite side of the roundabout.

“It was a community effort. We love it and would like to do more,” said ICT resident Lillian Scher, 98, who made at least four of the ceramic flowers. “We knew it was going to make us feel good.”

Across the table, ICT resident Carol Hood meticulously painted a bird ornament. The 85-year-old made at least five of the flowers on display and helped complete several others. She loves doing ceramics and loves to talk about the flower project.

“I’m proud to be part of that,” said the retired flight attendant of the flower garden. “Everybody I have spoken to likes them.”

HCT resident Shirley Isackson, 93, said the flowers were such a big hit that her three children have commissioned her to make them some.

“We had fun making the flowers and being creative,” Isackson said.

Flower Garden is Proof That Creativity Can Bloom as We Age

A flower with red petals blooms brightly in the ceramic flower garden outside Cypen Towers.

Marc E. Agronin, M.D., vice president of clinical research and behavioral health at Miami Jewish Health, says creativity is a lifelong attribute that can blossom with age.

“This is a perfect illustration of the deep wisdom and artistry that is always present and can flower when we attend to it, either on our own or in shared company with others,” said Agronin, of the ceramic flower garden.

For HCT resident Bill Adamo, 64, the project was a chance to give back. Adamo is a disabled veteran who spent six months in a VA Hospital, desperately ill. He was glad to be well enough and out of the hospital to participate.

“I enjoy doing things for others. The more I do, the better it is for me,” said Adamo, who with Rosenzweig helped attach ceramic backs and stems to each flower so they could be “planted.”

HCT resident Goldie Aschinski, 88, made about 10 flowers over several months.

“It was wonderful. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m so proud of it,” Aschinski said.

ICT resident Edythe Rosenthal didn’t make any flower garden flowers, but regularly participates in  ceramics classes and loves the flower garden.

On this day, she focused her gaze on a slab of smooth gray clay and carefully placed a long green leaf onto its surface. She rolled in the leaf’s imprint with a chubby wooden dowel, then deftly removed the leaf with a curved metal tool.

The first steps of her ceramic “leaf” bowl were underway. At age 96, she was creating something new.

“I love it,” “Edie” said. “I do all the classes – the weaving, the jewelry and the card making. If I didn’t do that, I would go cuckoo!”

At a nearby table, retired physicist Marty Zucker, 88, of ICT, was brushing a glaze coating on a small llama sculpture. He’s created two dozen or so animal figures over time.

“It’s fun to see what it comes out like,” Zucker said. “It’s challenging.”


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