NORMAN — It was suggested that I interview Clara Dumas — a nationally recognized fiber artist, whom I had never met, for this article in my aging in place series. This wonderful 94-year-old lady met me at the door of the Norman home she and husband Dub designed and built themselves in 1958, and in which she has lived alone since his death in 2001, although her daughter, Sylvia, also an artist, has just returned to Norman to assist her.
I soon learned that Clara has a life history of hard work and a lack of fear of trying and experimenting in new forms of art and life experiences. For her, the aging process seems just another life experience and another time to experiment and learn. With Clara I got the feeling life is still in the now. Yes she deals with MS, the recovery from two broken hips, and the loss of her life mate, but she talks about what she is doing now and what she wants to do. She wasted no time in showing me some lovely works in progress.
I want to start this inspiring story with some historical notes on the background that has influenced the aging process of this active artist. Clara was born on a farm in rural Oklahoma in 1918 in Harper County near Buffalo. She remembers as a child, creating objects from clay she dug herself, and that creative impulse has continued throughout her life and career.
After earning her bachelor of arts at the University of Oklahoma in 1940, Dr. Oscar Jacobson recommended her for a teaching job at OCU and a busy career began, culminating in 23 years (1959-1981) as a professor in the school of home economics at OU, teaching color and design and later fashion display, decorative arts, weaving, etc.
Clara took a sabbatical from 1978-79 to explore some experimental techniques in weaving, which focused her creativity in that area, but she was accomplished in a variety of media: oil, silk screen, clay and textile design, (both surface design and woven fiber forms.) Her work was displayed in numerous regional and national juried exhibitions and frequently received awards. Her fiber hangings can be found in public, corporate and private collections across the United States, including the State of Oklahoma Art Collection in Oklahoma State Capitol Building, the Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum Collection and the National Home Economics Building, Washington, D.C. She juried numerous exhibitions and served as state representative to a number of national and regional art organizations.
As for now and the future, Clara is still laying out in her mind the next three-dimensional tapestry project. So where did this full faced approach to life come from? She did share that her mom tried to teach her knitting which was too confining for her at the time but obviously had some impact on her direction in art. She also shared that her dad taught her about being open to try anything. She remembered that he was not afraid to tackle fixing a car or building a house.
So you might ask, what does all this mean about aging in place? Everyone I talk to over, say 55, seems to end up discussing all kinds of less than exciting health issues and surgeries or anticipated surgeries. I am beginning to see why the old folks — grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and parents — used the holiday get-togethers to talk about all those things to which us kids would just shake our heads at and go play, only understanding the now, only seeing the now as all that counts. We didn’t understand the then, which, as I grow older, seems to be a good part of my life as well as the now and the future, which now doesn’t seem to be that far away.
Although health problems are a fact of aging it seems, that isn’t the most important thing. Keeping engaged and active in the things you love seems to be very important to aging in place successfully.
So there you have it. To me the connection of Clara’s story in successful aging in place shows itself in the life of this 94 year old artist that has a life history of hard work, a lack of fear of trying and in experimenting in new forms of art. The aging process is just another life experience and another time to experiment and learn. With Clara I got the feeling life is still in the now.
Architect and OU professor Dave Boeck writes on Aging in Place for The Transcript.