When Duane Chenier retired from the hotel business ten years ago he took up watercolor painting as a hobby. He liked this kind of art because, as he puts it, it is a “mobile medium.” This mobility had him taking his paint set out in front of the ever-changing landscapes of the New York City parks.
“I’d see these older people sitting in the parks just staring into space,” he said. Duane was convinced that painting in the park was the perfect way to focus this attention, to give a sense of purpose and enliven the experience of older New Yorker who enjoy observing the city. He decided that he would make this happen by teaching a class. He discovered Project FIND and became a weekly fixture, organizing a group of people to gather and paint in the afternoon. Eventually he moved the class inside when he realized that some students had difficulty moving through the parks and downpours or scorching hot days were turning people away. A new dynamic began to evolve.
On a recent Thursday, about fifteen artists drifted in and out of the small dining room at the Hamilton Senior Center, chatting about museums, painting and critiquing each other’s artwork.
“While for many the creative process requires seclusion, my class chooses a more social approach where amidst the laughter and the learning, wonderful, unique art emerges,” Duane explained.
Santo Cambareri has been coming to Duane’s class for about three years. He worked as an art director in advertising for many years and he still enjoys flexing his creative muscles by painting still-lifes. In Duane’s class he has painted bright purple eggplants, earthy-looking vases and beautiful woodland landscapes. He spoke of his connection to Duane in language a lot less flowery than his paintings.
“He’s a good guy,” Santo said of Duane. “I just like talking to him.”
Duane loves the interactions that he has with students like Santo. He mentioned going out to the theater with some of his painting friends and also learning a lot from them about art technique.
“You know there is an old adage that you learn more by teaching and it’s very true,” he said. “I gain by just being part of Project FIND and having a better sense of community and a better sense of purpose personally.”