One of the first things you notice is the hands. The subtle variations in color, the texture, the unvarnished signs of age hint at the artistry and authenticity of this massive mural by South Carolina painter Tarleton Blackwell. It was commissioned for Park Springs, the award-winning senior living community in Stone Mountain.
The vision for the mural, Sentinels of Legacy, is that of Andy Isakson who opened Park Springs in 2004 with his nephew Kevin Isakson. An avid art collector, Andy has enhanced the community with many original works, which enrich the environment and demonstrate respect for Park Springs Members and staff.
The mural—all 26 feet of it—is art on an entirely different scale. It’s not just the physicality of the giant painting, but its emotional scope that awes. Three oversized panels feature Park Springs Members surrounded by family and care partners. In exquisite detail, they touch on powerful themes like the quest for legacy, and the pursuit of purpose. Tarleton’s lifelike images were inspired by his muse, the 16th century Spanish painter Diego Velazquez.
– Susan V. Bosak
The Power of Connection
A mural tour of Philadelphia in 2016 sparked Andy’s interest in the power of murals to tell stories. Later that year he happened to walk by the Park Springs courtyard where family of the late Member Kenneth (Kenn) Luyk had gathered for a celebration. “I snapped a quick photo with my iPhone and was surprised to see how it captured family interconnections.” That image became the centerpiece for the mural. As the artist notes, “You enter the mural through Mr. Luyk.”
The panel captures Mr. Luyk surrounded by four of his grandchildren and flanked by Park Springs care partners Tawakalitu (Tawa) Benson-Esho and Marlene Trottman. The images suggest the perspective of the unseen adult children—looking back at the legacy they have been given, and ahead to the one they hope to create. The children’s visible affection hints at the deep connection with their grandfather and the path he has modeled for them. Mr. Luyk’s smile conveys satisfaction in the proud legacy he leaves for future generations.
Says Andy, “I first see the family’s perspective, but I can also step back, looking from the view of the care partners and nurses and see the value and purpose they bring with their work. Is there a greater calling than helping others in a time of need? Not just physical care, but the ability to respond to emotional needs and build relationships. It takes a special person.”
The more he learned about Mr. Luyk, the more Andy realized he was the right person to become the focal point of the Park Springs mural. A professional engineer, Mr. Luyk was also a dedicated Salvation Army soldier, and beloved Salvation Army bandmaster. At his funeral service, lyrics to the Dan Foglerberg song Leader of the Band were recited. “The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old. But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul…I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.” Kenn’s son, Pastor Ken Luyk, Jr., added, “Our family is the living legacy of Kenn Luyk. His blood runs through our instruments and his song is in our soul.”
Adrian Luyk, another son of Kenneth and his late wife Lois, adds, “Park Springs became a family gathering place for dinners, birthdays and Thanksgiving. My girls would have dinner with my parents and go down to the pool with grandma—they have so many great memories of Park Springs.”
Other fond memories are recalled by the image of care partner Tutu in the mural. “Tutu cared for my father flawlessly. She was so good and so respectful, even when dementia caused him to give her a bit of hard time,” Adrian says.
His daughter Julia Luyk, 15, is one of the grandchildren depicted in the painting. She says, “The mural is so beautiful and lifelike. “My grandfather was a focal point of our family and it’s great to see him painted in this way.”
Ties that Bind
In the panel to the left, Member Mary Brown, who passed away in 2018, is enjoying the company of care partner Patrick Koroma. Mrs. Brown spent many hours in conversation with Patrick, who is an ordained minister, about her years as a religious missionary in China. “As a pastor you have to be a great listener, which has helped me in my care for seniors,” says Patrick. Some days, he would simply sit and hold Mrs. Brown’s hand as they sang hymns together.
“It brings me deep satisfaction to know people like Mrs. Brown, who were so active in society and made such a difference,” adds Patrick. A white dove floats above Mrs. Brown, representing the spirit that connects us all.
Also featured in this panel is the late Park Springs Member Bob Carling soon after celebrating his 100th birthday at Park Springs, and as a young World War II naval officer. “Bob enjoyed a long and rich life,” says Andy. “When I look at this image I see a man comfortable with his legacy, and at peace with himself. It’s a place I think we all hope to be someday.”
– Susan V. Bosak
Trust and Gratitude
The right-hand panel of Sentinels of Legacy highlights the bonds that developed among former Park Springs Member Jane McCreary, her daughter Pam Battey, nurse Dorothy Kwabbi and care partner Marlene Trottman. Mrs. McCreary is shown as a young woman, and she is the unseen subject of a tender moment that took place some months after her death.
Pam had returned to Park Springs to visit with members of her mom’s care team. That moment is captured in the mural, as Dorothy comforts Pam in an emotional embrace. Says Pam, “As an only child, my mother’s Park Springs care partners, Dorothy in particular, really became like family. Their presence was comforting and deeply abiding, especially on the night she died.”
Noted Dorothy, “Pam appreciated the care we were giving her mom. We became friends and she trusted us.” She had assisted Mrs. McCreary since 2010 and recalls her as “happy, cheerful and playful.” For Dorothy, the satisfaction of caregiving is “a feeling that’s hard to explain.”
Bringing a Vision to Life
For Tarleton Blackwell, an accomplished artist whose work has been featured in hundreds of museum exhibitions, bringing Andy’s vision to life was a labor of love. He spent nearly two years on the project, poring over the rich detail that gives the mural its authenticity.
“It took several months and nine studies just to tweak the composition. Then I started painting.” Working on such a large scale requires a precise plan for placement of the figures, as well as color, balance and integration of the mural into the space where it will hang.
In his search for the right artist, Andy turned to Fay Gold, a long-time Atlanta art dealer and owner of the Fay Gold Gallery. She had known and represented Tarleton since the 1980s and thought he would be an ideal choice to paint the mural. Upon seeing the completed work, Fay praised the artist’s “craftsmanship, the physicality of the surfaces, and the energy and spontaneity in his strokes.”
The two men hit it off and began the process of transferring Andy’s vision to Tarleton’s canvas. Tarleton welcomed the opportunity to bring compassion and connection to the canvas. Although he acknowledges a sense of loss once the mural was complete and gone from his studio, Tarleton is confident that it is in good hands.
Legacy, Life and Living
For Andy Isakson, who entered the senior housing industry after a frustrating search for a residence for his own parents, the mural is an opportunity to share those emotions and experiences through original art.
“I hope the mural leads to a greater appreciation of the care partners and nurses whose work and legacy we celebrate,” Andy says. He invites all those who pass by—Park Springs Members, families, care partners, visitors and staff—to enjoy Tarleton Blackwell’s exquisite work, with hopes that it will help inspire reflection about their own work to create a legacy.
– Susan V. Bosak
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