Every May, the halls of Ohesson Manor—the skilled nursing care center on the Ohesson senior living campus in Lewistown, Pennsylvania—are transformed into a venue for “Art Along the Juniata,” an exhibit featuring a variety of paintings and drawings by local artists.
This year, one of the most popular pieces was a watercolor painting/pencil canvas entitled “Lion’s Pride,” by Ohesson Manor resident Gwendee Lichvar.
“The painting is absolutely amazing,” says Ashley Barger, director of activities and volunteers at Ohesson. “Everyone stops and admires it. Gwen is the only in-house resident who had pieces in the art show this year. She shares her love and talent of arts with others through the event.”
That talent is readily apparent; most of her artwork is done in watercolor or regular pencils, or a combination thereof.
“I enjoy watercolor,” she says. “There are so many aspects to it. That’s why I like it so much.”
Her art comes to life, say her admirers. When looking at her show pieces—a bluebird, a farm scene or the lion—the canvases tell a story.
Ironically, Barger sees a parallel between Lichvar and her beautifully created lion.
“The way Gwen created it, you can see Gwen’s passion and drive. She could have taken the watercolor in a different direction. She didn’t stick to the normal palate. She made it bright and vibrant—just like she is,” says Barger.
“We all think of a lion as a leader of the pack. It is an animal that has a presence and Gwen is a very strong and independent woman. Throughout adversity, she has been a leader here on campus.”
Lichvar, 67, began facing such adversity more than three decades ago when she was diagnosed with a spinal tumor just before her wedding day. Over the years, she endured vertebrae deterioration, an issue that affected her mobility, eventually claiming her ability to walk.
And if that were not enough, she also faced cancer, lost her husband of 27 years to an illness and had to sell their dream home.
“Gwen has an amazing ability to look at a photograph or picture and render it in her own way through her art materials.”
Then, eight years ago, she contracted a bacterial infection that almost claimed her life.
“I was in a coma for four days. Everything shut down. I was on a breathing machine,” she says. “Somehow, I pulled through.”
Following her hospital stay, she moved to Ohesson Manor. Unfortunately, she soon suffered another tragedy when her sister died.
“I felt all alone,” she says.
Despite losing health, family and home, she still smiles because, she says, she has her faith. “God has been with me all of the way,” says Lichvar. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
With God’s guidance, she even found a talent she never knew she had. She began attending art classes at Ohesson more than six years ago. “The teacher, Barbara Nielsen, saw something in me that I didn’t see and I kept after it,” she says.
Although she had taken interior design and art classes in college, she never explored creating art herself until she came to Ohesson.
Nielsen, an independent living resident in The Village at Ohesson and a retired elementary-school art teacher, began the program for villagers and residents, but it has branched out into the community. The classes, which Lichvar faithfully attends with the help of a transportation service, are now held off campus at a local church.
Gwen Lichvar notes detail on one of her paintings.
“Gwen has an amazing ability to look at a photograph or picture and render it in her own way through her art materials. She works mostly in regular colored pencils or in watercolor pencils and has become very skilled in their use,“ says Nielsen.
Lichvar replies that she simply enjoys art classes.
“Artwork gives me a great outlet. I enjoy being with other people,” she says. “God has given me this gift. I use it in a way that I can share it with others.”
Nielsen believes that art has helped Lichvar realize that her disability does not identify her. “Her art ability, her pleasant personality and her friendship with other artists have given her a new purpose in life as an artist.”