Senior Lifestyles

Venturing into art : Creative spirits meet for inspiration and camaraderie

Photo by Mary Larsen/Town Crier
ArtVentures participants Germaine Decker, right, and Kazuyo Kada work on their current projects.

Wednesday mornings at the Los Altos Senior Center are relaxed and creative, with artists of many styles, media and skill levels meeting to work on projects, offer support and spend time with friends – and make new ones.

Kathryn Macaulay Alexander founded the ArtVentures program. Although “Kay” died in 2016, her spirit lives on in the weekly meetings of a dozen or so artists. They range from former art teachers and lifelong artists to people just discovering art post-retirement.

Lenora Valainis now coordinates the group, though she eschews the title “leader.” Like many ArtVentures participants, Valainis is also an active member of the Los Altos Art Club, for which she organizes demonstrations.

“Before I came, I didn’t know what end of the brush to paint with,” Valainis said modestly of her initial visit to ArtVentures.

Starting out as a beginner, she has attended the group for approximately eight years and works in a variety of media. Some of her pieces incorporate natural materials like bark.

“She does all kinds of things – she’s an experimentalist,” fellow participant Ellen Barker said of Valainis. “She’s a scientist by training. … She likes to experiment with art.”

Valainis also maintains the group’s blog, which features participants’ current work.

A general monthly theme aims to inspire the artists: fall colors, love (February), skies, underwater, etc. Twice-monthly art critiques invite members to display their recent finished pieces or works in progress along a whiteboard. Fellow artists offer advice on matters ranging from mat sizes and colors to titles. At the Jan. 2 meeting, members decided that a painting of a bird titled “Spring” might be more aptly titled “What Am I Looking For?”

Barker, current vice president of the Los Altos Art Club, said ArtVentures encourages artists to devote time each week to creating.

“You actually do it if you come here,” she said.

While she works mostly in watercolor, Barker said other participants employ a variety of media, including acrylic, pastel, mixed media – “whatever you can bring in.” Virtually the only medium not welcome is oils, Barker said, due to the fumes from brush cleaners. Mosaics might not be a fit, either, because of the materials involved.

Artists at work

Doreen Cohen, a participant since 2012, said the meetings are “a place to learn new techniques,” with occasional demonstrations by members.

Cohen works in a variety of media, including fabric art – “I like to call it painting with fabric,” she said.

Her fabric depiction of the Los Altos Heritage Orchard won an honorable mention in last year’s “Paint the Town” exhibition and is now on long-term display at city hall.

She is currently working on needlepoint Christmas stockings for her grandchildren, with the kids’ chosen subject matter. Having finished one featuring a Madeline doll, she is ready to begin stockings with owl and elephant themes.

Cohen created a compilation of ArtVentures and Los Altos Art Club members’ stories along with photos of some of their work. Print copies are stored in the archives of the Art Club and the Los Altos History Museum.

Germaine Decker offered her “Chili Peppers” watercolor at the critique. Working mostly in watercolor, she also enjoys the acrylic pouring technique.

Participant Tania Vecchiet, who joined the group several months ago, was at work on an acrylic painting of mushrooms.

“I’m not a painter,” she insisted. “It’s just for my relaxation and being active with a group of people. I’m not trying to be an artist.”

Kazuyo Kada took an adult-education watercolor class upon her retirement in 2003. She has been an off-and-on member of ArtVentures since its inception, taking time out to care for grandchildren. At the Jan. 2 meeting, Kada displayed a watercolor dragonfly painting in the critique and worked on hand-folded, painted chopstick sleeves.

“Everybody’s nice,” she said of the group. “I feel comfortable.”

ArtVentures meets 9:30 a.m. to noon Wednesdays at the Senior Center at Hillview Community Center, Room 12, 97 Hillview Ave. Meetings are free for Los Altos Senior Program members, $3 for nonmembers. When construction on the new community center begins, the group will temporarily relocate to Grant Park. For more information, call 947-2797 or visit To see some of the group’s work, visit

The Los Altos Art Club, which meets the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Social Hall at Hillview, is open to all ages. For more information, visit

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