Home | Practical Living | Construction and Design | Art is long, but life is short: changing aged care homes one mural at a time

Art is long, but life is short: changing aged care homes one mural at a time

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis has a nice ring to it. Translated as ‘art is long, life is short’, one might interpret this saying as an opinion on the long lasting qualities of fine art.

It was said to have been uttered by the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates of Kos. However, to the ancient Greeks, the word art in this sense meant craft or technique. It is more likely that Hippocrates meant that it takes a long time to master your craft and you have a short time to use it.

Artist Sharron Tancred’s craft is design and she is using her short time to brighten up aged care homes across Queensland. She is bringing smiles to the faces of residents by transforming sterile living spaces into scenic lookouts and pastoral vistas, while drab corridors are transformed into vibrant, living scenes. And she tries to influence the way residents feel about their home with her murals and the psychology of colour.

“We’re all affected by how we feel about specific colours. Whether we like a colour or dislike a colour. We might like a colour if it’s a tinted with white or grey or black because the tonal, let’s say, strength of that colour changes,” Tancred tells Aged Care Insite.

“If you don’t like red, well there are reasons [for that]. Red is the masculine colour. So, someone may have had a problem with their father in their childhood. And of course, red is all about masculinity and in the negative is about frustration and anger.

“A love of red is about energy and action and getting things done. So every colour has got a positive and a negative side to it.

“The interesting thing when it comes to the people who’ve got dementia is that because as a disease it progresses over time, they’re not able to see colour quite as well as they did. And it’s affected by the vision. So it gradually greys off and yellows off, which is why I need more contrast in their spaces.”

Before and after shot from Rothwell Nazarene Aged Care Facility. Photo: Supplied

Tancred’s work also helps move residents with dementia around the space safely, as her designs offer cues to influence movement.

She subscribes to the the Eden Alternative philosophy which is all about de-institutionalisation of aged care homes. The principles of this philosophy look to care for the human spirit as well as the care of the human body and this can come in many forms. For Tancred it is about the design of an aged care home.

“For instance, I did a mural for Regis Aged Care down in Brighton, Victoria, years ago. And that’s where those gorgeous little huts are on the beach,” she says.

“That’s a memory cue, and that’s all very positive. And to use those huts in a perspective and paint them out over the exit door. So the exit door became one of the change huts with a lock on it.

“So residents were going to see, oh, okay, it’s clothing huts on the beach. I can’t get through the fence that’s here and I can’t go out through the door. So it’s all about psychology, not just stick it in a book case, which I do not agree with it. We want to be a bit more strategic than that.”

A designer and interior decorator, with degrees in illustration and qualifications in graphic design and colour psychology, Tancred’s work has taken her overseas and back. She ended up working with aged care homes by chance. A fellow mum at her children’s school asked her about painting murals and it turned out that mum was a Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinator, and the murals were for Queensland Health’s Cooinda House at Kippa-ring, Brisbane.

“I was instantly hooked on how my skills could make a difference for these residents. Additionally, I was inspired by the information given to me on how dementia affects visual-spatial perception. It was fascinating,” Tancred says.

Sharron Tancred with her aged care mural

Tancred’s murals, as well as her drive to brighten up the living spaces of older Aussies, have gone down a storm. Queensland state MP Dr Christian Rowan agrees that environmental design plays a significant role in wellbeing.

“As Shadow Minister for Communities, Arts, Disability Services and Seniors, and as a specialist physician, I have seen first-hand the importance of ensuring appropriate care and assistance is provided to residents in aged care facilities, particularly throughout the ongoing COVID-19 health and economic crisis. The concept of environmental design can elicit positive changes to the well-being of seniors in aged care facilities, especially when it comes to mental health.” 

Tancred’s company, Tailored Artworks, and The Mural Shop also design personalised door wraps for residents, which add another level of comfort and memory cues to the residents’ home.

Residents can find a door designed to match the one that reminds them of childhood, professions, street life and nature.

A custom door wrap

And although it can be challenging work, Tancred enjoys how different designing a space for overall wellbeing can be to her previous work.

“To be honest I don’t always enjoy being in the dementia facilities. I’ve experienced some things over the years with the residents who may be bedridden, they’re at the end of their journey. I was just stand painting murals in tears,” Tancred says.

“It’s also a very long day on my feet because you’re up and down on ladders and off the floor and lifting buckets. [It’s] very strenuous work doing murals. But I know that the work that I do is going to be there for a very long time.

“And because it solves problems like wayfinding, stress at doors and helps families feel that their loved ones are in a better space and safe, I know that my work is very much appreciated.

“I love the challenge of it as well, mentally. I really like solving problems. It’s one thing that I can do very well. I’m dyslexic, so I can see things in my head and solve problems very easily. And I just feel it’s a calling and I’ve got to do it.”

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the top stories in our weekly newsletter Sign up now

One comment

  1. Thank you very much for publishing your story about my work at http://www.tailoredartworks.com.au and the door wraps for dementia at http://www.themuralshop.online Aged Care Managers can contact me on 61 7 3491 6400
    Great piece, I enjoyed it and thank you again for helping me to inspire more creativity and colour in our ever deserving Aged Care homes. Sharron Tancred