The creative spark ignited at Gloucester’s Rose Baker Senior Center continues to burn brightly with its art classes, spearheaded by local artist Juni VanDyke.

In her most recent effort, she has curated an art show at the nearby Jane Deering Gallery, where works by the seniors will hang side-by-side with professional artists in a show titled “Formally Taught ... and Not.”

To safeguard seniors — as well as all interested viewers — the gallery has posted the artworks online, where they can be enjoyed by residents while they shelter in place.

But the mission of this show, which germinated long before the pandemic, was to highlight the work of local senior citizens together with the work of local established artists.

“Juni has been a champion of the creativity innate in all people,” said Jane Deering, the gallery owner.

Although the opening reception was canceled because of the new coronavirus, the small gallery will hold reduced hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

In this exhibition, VanDyke said that she wants to pay tribute to senior citizens who are nurturing their artistic souls.

VanDyke, director of the Rose Baker Senior Center art program, began the classes there nearly 30 years ago.

“I have learned after all these years is that what people need, more than anything, to create beautiful works of art is time and passion. Time and passion trump everything,” she said. “This is what the seniors have taught me. The people who come to my program have done wonderful things with their lives, some devoted to family and those from fishing families, and other jobs, but now in retirement, these seniors have more time to pursue something they love — art.”

Gloucester sisters Natalie Daley and Doreen Ross devoted their working lives to education. Both were teachers in the public schools, and they are frequent attendees of these art classes. Growing up in Gloucester, if they were to tell their mother they were bored, she would tell them to get their pencils and crayons to go outside to draw.

That seed planted by their mother took root in both of them. 

Daley, an educator for more than 43 years before she retired, would take art classes from time to time with some local masters, like Bernie Gerstner and John Chetcuti.

Daley said that the senior center provides a nice place to paint year-round, and she has seen VanDyke inspire dozens of local seniors.

“She is good at that. She takes people who don’t think they have any kind of talent, and she gets them to try,” Daley said. “Some people are afraid to pick up a paintbrush, but when they do, often, they are proud of what they have created.”

VanDyke, who holds a master’s degree in art teaching from Tufts University, describes her role as more of an advocate than a teacher. 

“I’m a cheerleader for people who want to explore the creative process — it’s about encouragement,” she said. “I have people come into the program who are quite timid and say they can’t draw a straight line. But I explain to them how they are more creative than they realize. It’s about art and the artistic process.

“They have a lifetime of making artistic decisions, from how they decide to dress to how they set a table, to name just a couple examples,” she said. “We make artistic decisions every day. I tell them that they bring a big bag of artistic decisions to the art room.”

VanDyke also holds a diploma from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tufts.

In addition to weekly classes, there are large projects that have been very successful and brought in the contributions of hundreds of local senior citizens.

“We are making something beautiful without a lot of angst,” VanDyke said. “This show is about the art within all of us and what you can do if you take the time. I want to give people confidence. The point is to share and show people that they have the creative process within them. 

“These seniors are continuing in their journey of self-expression,” she said. “Their artwork is illuminating and proof that we are all equipped with a unique set of sensibilities informed by years of aesthetic practice implicit in daily living.”

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