The Computer Artwork of Anne Eldredge Harris

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A Treat for Your Heart
Experiencing Old Age
Landscapes of the Heart
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Wilmington News Journal Article

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Reprinted with permission from
The Wilmington News-Journal

Wilmington, Delaware
Friday, June 6, 1997

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Drawn From Memory

Staff reporter

Though artist Anne E. Harris rarely leaves her light-filled studio apartment near Hockessin, people from Australia, Brazil, Norway and Morocco have been visiting her cyberspace gallery to savor her paintings. At 79, the white-haired Harris has abandoned oils, acrylics and collage for a series of digital self-portraits exploring what it's like to grow old with grace.

"People seem to think I'm getting the word out that old age is not the pits," she says.

Should you track down her playful creations on the World Wide Web, you will find 20 images of Harris in everyday tasks such as cooking, sewing and admiring the stars. She calls her assemblage "Experiencing Old Age" and matches strands of philosophy with scenes of her life at Cokesbury Village.

She's had a site on the Web only since March 3, but she gets 10 to 85 visitors a day, many downloading her images. She is also being praised as a model of aging by doctors and nurses around the nation who have discovered her work.

Dr. Robert E. Roush, associate professor of geriatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, hopes to talk about her paintings at next fall's conference of the Gerontological Society of America.

"She is keeping her mind alive and staying connected with people," says Roush. "She is an example for young people that life isn't over until it's over."

Harris is proof that the age of 65—which was once a marker for retirement—no longer seems old and aging can be an adventure. In the 1990 census there were 80,735 people in Delaware older than 65. By 2000 the nation could have 12.7 percent of the population 65 or older.

Roush says Harris gives hope to such older people so they can grow mentally and spiritually and even rebound from health problems. "She is the epitome of a person late in life who has adapted to a new technology—making a computer screen her easel, a mouse her paintbrush," he says.

Roush calls Harris one of the pioneers of a new medium. And because he finds her computer art poignant and instructive, he wants to post her paintings on his Web site at the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine.

Her paintings are those of a 60-year artist confident in the expression of emotion though line and color. The computer art, created in the last two years, also reveals a nuance of feeling.

One painting, an image of Harris, standing at the bathroom sink as she bends and brushes her teeth in front of the mirror, is etched with mystery. The painting is accompanied by a quote which embodies the Harris philosophy: "There is a proper dignity and pro-portion to be observed in every act of life." (Marcus Aurelius)

In another, the mundane chore of putting on her pantyhose becomes a moment of celebration. Study the painting and you sense Harris has not lost touch with her femininity or the flexibility of her limbs, though aging has brought the limitations of diabetes, heart disease and cataracts.

Even with these ills, friends at Cokesbury Village are aware of her gifts. "She is a dynamic, creative, completely delightful individual," said neighbor Helen Pierce. "How I admire and envy her."

Says resident services coordinator Carolyn F. Perialas: "How I pray that I can proceed with my own aging with the grace and beauty of Anne Harris."

Modest about what she's achieved, Harris says she is simply following her bliss, quoting a snippet of advice from mythologist Joseph Campbell on how people can find their life's purpose. "My life has always revolved around my art. I can't wait to get up each morning. And I'm reluctant to go to bed at night."

Her paintings also give meaning to others. A nurse who works with the elderly wrote to thank her. "It's hard trying to make a difference in the current health care environment," the woman wrote via e-mail. "Your art makes me remember why I do what I do. Bless you."

Harris enjoys the validation, though she calls her admirers "pretend friends" because they communicate over the Internet and not in person.

"What I like is that people on the Internet don't have any barriers and are willing to speak from the heart," she says while scrolling through her messages at her Compaq Pressario computer. "These e-mails are reward enough for what I do. I answer everyone who writes me because I think it's important."

An artist since she was a teen-ager, Harris never stopped exploring new mediums while raising three sons. she also talks about her late husband, Ed, as an influence. He was a professor of mechanical engineering at Tulane University in New Orleans, but was inquisitive about everything until his death in 1982. She describes Ed as a Renaissance man.

The memory of his love motivates her still. In one painting she can be seen drawing at the computer as Ed Harris’ ghost-like presence hovers in a mirror.

Harris credits one of her sons—the Rev. Mark Harris of St. James Episcopal Church in Stanton—with introducing her to computers. Starting in 1984, he's given her three hand-me-down machines. Then she bought her own.

Mark also gave her Fauve Matisse, the software program she's been painting with the last two years. Her work is small compared with other mediums she's worked in—only 4 inches by 5 inches.

But Harris has had so much experience making the paintings that she's written the software's creator—Richard Krueger—suggesting changes in updated versions.

Her work is on the Web thanks to her friend, Norman MacLeod of Dover, who creates Web pages through his business, Gaelic Wolf Consulting. MacLeod and his wife, Teren, are also working to publish Harris' paintings as handmade booklets.

These days Harris begins a computer drawing with a pencil image in her sketch book. Then she duplicates the image on her computer screen with her mouse. Eventually she adds color—the whole process taking 1½ weeks.

"When you've been stimulated all your life somehow you don't want to be ordinary," she says. "I want to think new ideas."

That's sometimes been symbolized in her dreams when she's found herself opening a door and finding a baby—a sign of new energies and perspectives coming into her psyche. In fact, she is never without a project.

Having completed her series of paintings on aging, Harris is intrigued by the idea of creating handmade books she would sell for $15. She is also busy dramatizing key moments from her life's story in another series of paintings.

One of the most powerful paintings is the image of a girl crying at curb. Nearby is an iron pylon protecting cars from an open gutter.

She has written a short story next to the painting to make its meaning clear. In the story she tells about being a child lost on the streets of Valdosta, Ga., in 1926.

As she sat crying at the curb, he iron pylon changed into a symbol of an "iron little girl," and she knew she had an iron will that would help her find her way. she jumped up and asked a passer-by to take her to the police.

"When I got home Mother was so full of praise for my having taken charge of myself, being so self-sufficient," she writes. "Here was born the stubborn autonomy that has been my lifelong prized possession."

Through such paintings, Harris is creating her own personal mythology. She is also working on a series she calls "Landscapes of he Heart"—scenes that have touched her while living at Cokesbury the last seven years.

In her first years, she worked with Alzheimer's patients at Cokesbury. Though patients had lost much of their memory, they could make touching images of themselves in clay. Harris found he teaching rewarding, but abandoned it because of her health.

In coming to Cokesbury, Harris jettisoned her antiques and books. It's been freeing to start over and decorate her studio with hand-me-own furnishings.

"I am no longer possessed by my possessions," she says. "And in coming here I asked myself: Why not do my soul's desire? Why not say what I want to say?"

You can find the paintings of Anne E. Harris at her Website at:

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