Last weekend, I made a “must see stop” to The Bruce S. Kershner Gallery for the opening reception of Donald Axleroad’s woodcut collection: “The Human Condition and the Realities of Aging.”
It’s an artistic exploration of the loneliness of “Alzheimer’s, Identity Theft, Role Reversal and the Fear of Fate.” Axleroad is known for his skillfully intricate woodcuts and the use of Greek mythology in his images.
I was drawn to see the collection for personal reasons. As a caregiver, I face the issues that come with my mother’s Alzheimer’s with every passing day. When I watch her steadily decline, I sense her loss as I feel my own.
Ironically, I was also a Greek mythology buff in grade school. I was such a believer in the gods on Mount Olympus that it seemed like a religious alternative to being confirmed in the Episcopal Church (no, I did not become a pagan).
Axleroad’s use of monsters like Medusa, the Minotaur, the Furies and Cerebus personify the struggles we all face as time marches us blindly into the unknown world of aging. Life brings increasing challenges and changes. Sometimes it really does seem like you are crossing the river Styx in a wooden boat while the Furies are blowing the hot air from Hell at your sails.
During the reception, Axleroad gave a walking lecture of his work as his audience followed him through the gallery. We learned that his father suffered with Alzheimer’s in a state hospital while his mother was physically infirm. This was movingly illustrated in “Trying to Communicate.” His mother is in a wheelchair reaching out to his father who is wearing a familiar mask of “Alzheimer’s” that we see in his other work.
Another piece that really struck a chord for me was “I don’t know; I can’t remember.” The woodcut depicted three Alzheimer’s patients superimposed with repetitive stamps: Who are you, Where are you, What Day is it? What time is it? and I Don’t Remember, I Don’t Know. Axleroad explains that constant mental testing is often frustrating to the patients in hospitals. Questions like: “Who is the President?” seem relevant to us but the significance is lost to them in their institutional world.
This work looks at the big picture: How much longer can we pass the test in a life that is constantly testing us?
The signature piece for the show contains a quote from William Wadsworth: “The Child is the father of the Man.” It poignantly shows a larger-than-life infant holding the images of elderly, childlike parents in his arms. The father is out of his wheelchair with the assistance of a crutch, showing the role reversals of helplessness and dependence.
We paused in front of this woodcut as the appropriate finale. That’s when my own mother, with Alzheimer’s, smiled and stepped forward to shake hands with Axelroad.
This very human condition touches all of our lives in some way. If you have concerns for a loved one (or even yourself) save the date of Saturday, June 12 at 3:00 p.m. There will be a special presentation in conjunction with this exhibition: “An Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease and Research” by Dr. Stephen Jones, Gerontologist and Director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Greenwich Hospital. The reception: 3 p.m.; presentation: 3:30-4:45 p.m.
The exhibition runs through July 11.
Alison Boteler is the author of several books on cooking and crafts and is a former Connecticut Post columnist. Her latest book, “The Gourmet’s Guide to Cooking with Beer,” was recently translated into French.