"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
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
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
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
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
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.
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)
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.
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
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
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
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?"