Darien woman, 92, creates art from servingware during pandemic
At the start of the pandemic, when everyone at the Residence at Selleck's Woods senior living facility in Darien was confined to their rooms, rather than despair, Jeanne Baker Walworth got to work.
An artist by trade, the 92-year-old created collages out of plastic utensils and food accoutrements that were delivered to her room with each meal.
To date, she has made about 20 collages, many of which are displayed in the lobby of Selleck’s Woods.
Each collage is made entirely out of servingware items — even salt, pepper and sugar packets.
Forks became flowers. Spoons became rabbits, fishes, and penguins. Packets became tails or whiskers. Walworth even recycled the containers that contained her meals.
“The food staff has a riot seeing what she comes up with each day,” said Debbie Parnon, engagement director at Selleck’s Woods.
While facing each other through a closed window from inside the Selleck’s Woods facility, Walworth spoke on the phone with The Darien Times in detail about her collages, career, and life.
When the Selleck’s Woods’ dining room had to close because of the pandemic, Walworth was looking at her meal one day and formed the creative idea.
“When the kind kitchen staff began delivering my meals in brown paper bags, I was amazed at the variety of plastic ‘take-out’ tableware there was. I discovered that the old round paper plate had reinvented itself. Even the classic brown paper grocery bags are made of recyclable stuff,” said Walworth, a mother of three and grandmother of eight.
Initially, to create the collages, she tried many kinds of glue, but had been unsuccessful. Eventually, a friend in town loaned her a glue gun, which she said made her work much easier.
“The glue gun was the only thing that would make the plastic stick together,” she said.
Walworth said planning and creating the collages helped her get through the many days in isolation.
“I was entertaining myself. This was a lifesaver because I had just moved here and really didn’t know anybody,” added Walworth, who moved into The Residence at Selleck’s Woods in January. She has lived in Darien for 62 years.
It wasn’t long before the kitchen staff got wind of what she was doing and tried their best to accommodate whatever she needed.
To pay it forward, she has since given many of her collages to the kitchen staff.
The Residence at Selleck’s Woods is located near the town’s nature preserve of the same name.
Many years ago, Chris Filmer, president of Friends of Selleck's Woods and a Darien Land Trust trustee, supported the town’s purchase of the Selleck’s property for a town park, according to Walworth.
He asked Walworth and some other local painters to paint a picture of Selleck’s Woods.
“He wanted some publicity for Selleck’s Woods, to encourage the public to come visit the woods,” Walworth said.
So, Walworth went over to the property one day and painted a fall scene using “colors that were perfectly matched to our dining room here at Selleck’s,” Parnon said.
She later donated the painting to Selleck’s Woods. It’s now hanging above the fireplace in the dining room where Walworth now lives.
Walworth graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., as a costume design major, and studied at the Art Student’s League in New York.
Her paintings appear in many private collections as well as those of U.S. Steel, the Playtex Corporation, and other companies and nonprofit organizations.
She worked in the display department for Saks and Gimbels in Pennsylvania and was a member of the Connecticut Women Artists, Inc.
She exhibited her paintings at Lord & Taylor in New York and at the Noroton Gallery & Frame Studio in Darien.
She’s also a founding member of the Darien Arts Council and helped found and teach the first art classes for children and adults at Darien Town Hall. She also taught art at the Thomas School in Norwalk and at the Darien Arts Center.
For more than 20 years, she was the director and teacher of the Darien Chapter of Resources Unlimited, a painting class for adults with special needs that met weekly at St. Paul's Episcopal Church and then at Town Hall. Local artists served as aides and everyone shared their interest in painting, museum trips, and art exhibitions.
Walworth said teaching that class was her favorite. There was a group of students who contracted polio in the last epidemic in the 1950s.
One of them was Nancy Nickerson, “who was in an iron lung and couldn’t use her arms. She operated a steering wheel with her feet and painted with a brush in her mouth,” she said.
“We rigged up an old music stand so she could put the canvas on there, and she would paint with her mouth,” she added.
Walworth said she learned more from those students than they learned from her.
“I would go home and say to myself, ‘I am not going to complain about another thing.’ But, of course, I did,” she chuckled.
Once Selleck’s Woods resumes its regular programming, Walworth said she hopes to teach painting.
“We have a number of people who enjoy painting and I’d like to get them together so they can enjoy looking at each other paint,” she said.
Currently, she’s working on a painting of her grandson in California, who has just colored his hair blue.
In regard to how addictive painting can be, Walworth said she always jokes that it “takes two people to paint a painting: One to paint and the other to tell the painter to stop.”
“From my standpoint, I see this woman as a magnificent role model for all the younger people in our community,” said Marti Lanese, with At Home in Darien. “She chooses ‘happy’ versus ‘poor me’: A glass half-full way to think.”
“You never know about life,” Walworth said. “It’s full of surprises.”