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‘Bench time’

Two artists find common ground at Riderwood

Created date

May 22nd, 2012

Sylvia Valentino and Carolyn Stearns are sisters not by blood, but by choice. They found each other after Carolyn moved to . target="_blank">Riderwood, an Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md., almost two years ago. Both artists and creative spirits, they just happen to live in the same neighborhood on campus. Between their apartments, a bench has become their daily meeting place. All Sylvia has to do is call Carolyn on the phone, say bench time, and Carolyn drops whatever project she s working on and meets Sylvia there. At this infamous bench, they not only critique each other s artwork but also name it. Sometimes martinis are involved, especially after four o clock, but there is always laughter and respect for each other and for their work.

The gift of time

Riderwood has given me the gift of time to do what I love, and what a privilege that is, Carolyn says. Throughout her career, she s always been creative. She both danced and taught dance for 39 years. Once she hung up her shoes, she picked up a pen and started writing. With five published books, she s won several awards for how she crafts words. But she didn t want to stop there. In 2009, she added watercolor artist to her life resume, and in just three short years, she s created more than 300 paintings and 72 note cards. And she does all of this as a person with low vision. Something Carolyn wanted to learn but never dreamed she d be able to was watercolors. She thought it too difficult, but with Sylvia as her guide, she found the courage to delve into the medium. Working mostly with bold lines and colored pens, Carolyn creates paintings that are at once abstract and yet familiar. A face of a cat is seen at a distance, while up close the same painting is filled with geometric shapes and forms. The images don t pop into my mind but rather into my hands, and I watch and see what it s all about. I do my best work when I get out of the way, Carolyn says. Sylvia has lived at Riderwood for the last ten years. She says she s seen the community grow around her. Despite her career as a real estate agent, art has always been her passion one that has garnered awards.

Painting feelings

Since living at Riderwood, she s developed a penchant for mixed-media art, especially collage. Under the tutelage of renowned artists like Skip Lawrence, she s learned to create art from a place of emotion. If you asked me to draw that chair, I couldn t do it unless I developed some kind of intimate exchange with it, Sylvia laughs. She doesn t paint things but rather feelings, and this allows her and whoever views the art to go to a deeper place of the human experience. When she starts a project, Sylvia places pieces of paper, coordinated by color or shape, in front of her and looks, not with her physical eyes but with what she calls her heart s eye. I m always asking myself while I m working, How do I feel about this? Sylvia says.

Other artistic adventures

Carolyn and Sylvia recently shared space at Paint Branch Unitarian Church, where their work was on exhibit. Along with bench time, they run the mixed-media group focused mostly on collage Adventures in Art which meets every Friday at Riderwood. It s wonderful to be able to meet with artists who may be working on different types of art but who have an artist s mindset, Sylvia says of the group. Along with time to pursue the things they want, being at Riderwood has given both women the gift of connection; it s something they embrace daily and, now that they have it, wouldn t ever want to live without.