Maria pays tribute to mum with art exhibition

By Matthew Leslie

LEITRIM-based artist, Maria Noonan-McDermott, says her “Time Lapse” exhibition at the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen encapsulates not only living with her late mother’s Alzheimer’s but how she became closer to her during the final years.
Maria’s mum, Maisie Noonan, passed away last year aged 86 and been suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease for the previous 10 years.
Maisie had studied in London to become a fashion designer – an occupation she fulfilled over the 1950s and 60s. Fifty-five-year-old Maria inherited her mother’s artistic touch – a talent which is currently being showcased at the Ardhowen until August 27.
Mrs Noonan-McDermott, who is a resident artist with Hambly and Hambly at Dunbar Hall, said that by painting and writing poetry, both she and her mother were involved in painting therapy with art also becoming an escape route away from the difficulties of helping a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
She said; “My mum had Alzheimer’s and, along with my sisters, I cared for her over a 10-year period. But in the last three years, she needed full-time care so I looked after her at home.
“I did some art therapy with mum and I would write and read to her while working with her because there were long period when you were just sitting with her and keeping her company.
“So I suppose I leaned very heavily on my art – even just as a means of escape. The show also has landscapes because I needed to escape to and be renewed again with walking the beaches in Donegal and the lovely forest walks in Fermanagh.
“Nature became a very important lifeline for me just to get walking in those beautiful places, get away from everything and be grounded again. The exhibition has some large pieces – such as ‘The Empty Chair’ – which have pieces of poetry that accompany the paintings.
“When sitting with mum I would be writing – documenting her emotions and my emotions as well, and it just seemed to all come together.”
Twelve months ago, Maisie passed away and Maria, faced with a huge void in her life having spent years caring for her mother, threw herself into her art.
She added: “My mum died a year ago and I didn’t know what to do with myself because my time had been totally taken up with her. So the paintings were my way of dealing and coping with it.
“I got really close to her and I felt like she wasn’t gone because I was continuing on her life through my work. The exhibition was quite a happy accident – it is called ‘Time Lapse’ because in the end, my mum became like a little child.
“Unfortunately, she was not cognisant of the paintings and poems that I was doing. However, with ‘The Red Chair’ painting, she would hone straight in on it. Whatever it is about colours, apparently red is a colour that those with Alzheimer’s hone into.
“So we had to cover a chair in red in order to get her to actually sit comfortably and happily on it. So everything was, ‘are you bringing me to my red chair?’.
“The ‘Time Lapse’ is a period of clarity that she remembered from her childhood right through to the present day. Also, with the ‘Time Lapse’ theme, when I was working with my mum, the time had for ourselves was so limited – it just moved so quickly in those five years.
“Our lives changed dramatically – I’ve a painting called ‘Changing Patterns’ that shows that every moment our lives changed, we just had to adapt. It sounds like a bad thing but, honestly, there were so many moments of beauty, laughter and I never felt closer to my mum as I did in the last year.”

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