Man with Dementia Co-Creates Farm Mural


When Wayne Minde gets an idea, he doesn’t let anything stop him… not even his diagnosis of “Lewy Body Dementia.” Always a creative and hands-on guy, he could envision anything and then build it, which is why his remodeling business was so successful. His wife of 33 years, Linda, says, “He’s always had that. He has always been creative.”

Wayne and Linda contacted me to paint a mural at their Gilbert, Arizona home. It was Wayne who had the idea in mind for the stark, block wall that encased him in their small backyard. His illness forced a move last year, leaving behind the Chandler, Arizona home he built 23 years ago and loved so very much. It was to be their “forever home” until Wayne began to notice some unsettling changes. He told me in whispered words because his throat constricts at times, “I could sit at my kitchen table and see Four Peaks, San Tan Mountains, and South Mountain all at once.” And, he expressed that it was more than frustrating to no longer see his cows and his horse, “Woody.” Here is the plain wall, skim coated and painted to prepare for the mural (prepared by Jorge Balderas).

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So, after a visit to Lake Placid, Florida, last November, where murals are plentiful, his imagination took over and he found a solution – creating an expansive landscape, rife with imagery of farm animals and dreams of his youth. It was fun to work with Wayne, as a fellow “visionary.” With Linda’s help, we initially made a wish list of items to include in the mural, some images from their previous Chandler mini-farm, as well as items from his childhood farm in Union Springs, New York (upstate New York). During our discussion, Wayne, whose illness has literally slowed down his pace and affected his sense of balance, carefully shuffled to another part of the room to bring out a large popcorn tin, showing me the “kernel” of an idea (pun intended). Wayne’s popcorn can illustrations served as an excellent reference point because it provided a style and several images he was really drawn to, an excellent jumping off point.

Popcorn can

Wish List
• Cows
• Sheep
• Barn (like one on the popcorn can)
• Childhood home – white house
• Landscape similar to can with fencing
• Horse – portrait of “Woody”
• Boy with dog hunting, dog to look like “Bear”
• Cardinals
• Geese flying in formation
• Pond with ducks and diving board, like one from childhood
Later additions: Originally an autumn day in upstate NY, but changed to springtime when Wayne decided he wanted a Cherry Blossom tree; also, a cross, and a church, and a not-so-obvious roadrunner. I added a mailbox and trellis with wisteria.

However, as “artistic visionaries,” we were not bound by rules or strict, realistic accuracy! We could venture into the realm of re-inventing his past in such a way that it would capture all the fond pieces of his life, wondrous and entirely comforting, and forget all the difficult parts. “Artistic license” at its best!

Here’s the rough sketch that I submitted for placement of items. Along with this, I sent Wayne and Linda other photos for style consideration and I estimated 8-10 working days. Some artists like to sketch a full color example ahead of time, however, I prefer to work out the details as I go. Many fun surprises can happen that way! (We moved around a few of these things for ultimate viewing pleasure from his chair).
Minde Rough Sketch

As the oldest of five children, Wayne was expected to work a lot on the farm. He learned to milk cows at the age of 5 (before automated machines). Some of his other tasks included feeding the cows and pigs, keeping the tractor in running order, and rounding up the chickens into the “brooder house” at night so the foxes wouldn’t get to them. He remembers even driving the old Rambler station wagon at the age of 10 if his chores made him miss the school bus! There was a strong expectation to take care of things and he could see how it made him grow. He misses that feeling. He is naturally a “fixer,” no longer possessing the ease in which he could put a lock on a door or skim coat a wall, like the one in his new back yard. But, he smiled when he recalled his love of hunting and his favorite gift, an over-under Savage rifle, and the sheer freedom he felt when he and his dog ventured out on the large acreage of the family farm. He shared this picture with me (see below) and asked to include the idea of it somewhere in the landscape of the mural. His beloved dog, “Bear,” died last year so it was important that the dog’s coloring resemble his pet, a Queensland Healer.

The images from this picture:

boy and dog

…transformed into this, bringing in a depiction of his childhood home.

Wayne and Dog up to house

In the process of co-creating this sacred and unique piece, we had many laughs. When Wayne stopped chuckling at me for my incorrect pronunciation of “Leghorn” (as in chicken, I kept saying LEG HORN), he informed me it’s actually, “Leg’ern.” I also learned what a “brooder house” is. I had to keep reminding him I grew up in midwestern ‘burbs, so all I know about is “Foghorn Leghorn” and a vague remembrance of the animals in “Charlotte’s Web.” Wayne especially loved teasing me when he realized my horror regarding hunting and taxidermic animals! But, I couldn’t escape loving the pure mischief in his eyes! It just made me laugh more.

The close-up black and white cow was the “first born” on the mural and is Wayne’s favorite. I think he has named her, “Betsy,” and briefly considered “Holy” (as in ‘Holy Cow!’). He enjoys telling Linda he is going out to milk the cows now and they joke between them about the painted version being “low maintenance” and, therefore, much easier.

There definitely were some rather fantastic moments in this creative process. The day I focused on and finished the requested geese in V-formation, a goose noisily flew directly overhead, or maybe it was a Mallard Duck. This sheltered suburban girl doesn’t know the difference, but Wayne does! And, I must mention the wonderful appearance of a “good samaritan” on so many afternoons – Linda’s smiling face, a tray of pastries right out of the oven and an ice cold soda! She taught me much about “Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)” and, of course, pure compassion.

These last few years of Wayne’s life have been spent coming to many hard realizations and learning to accept the limitations his illness forced upon him. He would no longer enjoy his passions — driving, hunting, or flying a plane and he felt everything he “was born to help do was gone! …Those things were taken from me,” he whispered. He lost interest in many of his hobbies. And, sometimes, when we conversed, he had trouble finding the words he needed to describe a memory or feeling, but it never stopped us from finding the meaning he was ultimately after. I asked him if he could think of anything, anything positive at all, that has come to him as a result of these limitations. He told me his priorities have changed a lot. Primarily, he is profoundly grateful for his wife’s love and devotion and care-taking with his medical treatment and admits that Linda has always been the one who took care of the details with the business. Now, he is more concerned about others – he spends his time with friends at his church and those who need visits in the hospital. Linda teased him, “Yeah, before, you were kind of me-focused!” They laughed. His family and his faith in God are very important. And, he and Linda make sure to do many activities with their grandchildren. He added, “If somebody had to have it [the disease], I’d rather it be me than them.”

I asked Wayne why he wanted to do the mural so much. He responded with a smile, “I think I just figured this would be my last big splash… Being able to look out [my window] brings back good memories — that’s important! (long pause) There’s a purpose for everything. Now, you’re gonna go tell other people.”

Scroll down to see more of Wayne and Linda’s mural…

Wayne in front of his favorite part of the mural.
Wayne Minde in front of cow

The view from Wayne’s chair.
View from Wayne's chair

The view from Wayne’s bedroom.
View from Wayne's bedroom

Sheep

church and chicken

Leghorn chicken close up

Linda Wayne Me in front of cow

Please “like” and visit my Facebook page for more process photos.
www.facebook.com/suzanne.whitaker.murals.

I used Dunn-Edwards Evershield Exterior Paints and clear-coated with Modern Masters MasterClear, all acrylic based.