On the main floor of WellStar’s Atherton Place assisted-living center off Tower Road west of Church Street, is a small ceramics shop that has been used by residents since moving into the space 20 years ago.
During the holidays, the shop makes Christmas-themed items to sell to the public, which cover the costs for art supplies.
One of the volunteers, Robert Patton, 74, said he has been firing the kiln every other day to finish 50 Christmas trees so far, with angels, Santa sleighs, churches and nativity scenes also being available for purchase at WellStar Kennestone Hospital’s gift shop, and other WellStar locations.
After expenses, proceeds from the sales help fund various charity initiatives through the WellStar Foundation.
An artistic skill
Still, Patton points out that the mission of the shop is not to be a fundraiser, but a service provider.
Residents of Atherton Place, many with memory problems, are able to pick up the artistic hobby later in life and even improve their skills.
Hand-painting the pieces “helps them stay mentally alert,” Patton said.
The activity is also something the residents can do with friends and visitors.
Risa Fielder, 58, of Marietta painted many pieces while visiting her husband, Lester, when he was at Atherton Place after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012, before moving to another assisted-living home in Cobb.
“He loved it,” said Fielder.
Fielder said Alzheimer’s limited her husband’s abilities, but the large trees are an easy task to paint.
Although not able to paint with her husband this year, Fielder has finished five Christmas trees so far this season to give as gifts to family and friends.
“It is just a wonderful outlet here,” Fielder said about the shop, which she frequents early in the mornings. “It is just my escape.”
For her, the hardest part is the small detail work, like faces and small eyes, Fielder said.
Fielder’s mother, Geraldine Hammonds, who lived in Austell until she died at age 93, was a ceramics artist. Fielder said she now has a greater appreciation for her mother’s work.
The ceramics studio is run by five volunteers, whose work is “out of love and sweetness,” Fielder said.
Patton said the average age of the volunteers is 81 years old and account for 120 hours of time each week.
“We would love to have fresh faces,” Patton said.
Mary Hancock, 93, who has lived in the Atlanta area since 1954 and moved to Marietta in 1977, has been a volunteer with the ceramics studio for 32 years.
After retiring as an assistant in the insurance business, Hancock said she has more time to be creative.
“I have always been a crafty person,” Hancock said.
Hancock said she took classes and was certified as a teacher for the studio.
Now she works one-on-one with the residents, who Hancock said tend to focus for a couple of hours at a time.
“They come in and think they can’t do it,” Hancock said, but after a couple of pieces they don’t want to quit.
Deanna Patton, who has been married to Robert Patton for 54 years, has volunteered at the studio for 35 years, including at its previous location inside Kennestone Hospital.
The Pattons’ whole basement is filled with over 500 molds, ranging from tiny animals to large statues, including the newest addition, an 18-inch tall bunny with long ears hanging down its back.
The couple has lost many of the studio’s artists as they pass away, move to other facilities or are taken in by family members.
Robert Patton choked up when talking about some of the former residents and the bond he shared with them.
About the studio:
WHAT: Every year, Atherton Place sells hand-painted ceramic Christmas trees with multi-colored lights. Sizes range from 6 to 21 inches high and are priced from $7.50 to $22. They also have angels, Santa sleighs, churches and Nativity scenes available to purchase.
Proceeds go to help fund the WellStar Foundation with various charity initiatives.
WHERE: The pieces are sold at Atherton Place, the Windy Hill Hospital gift shop between Cobb Parkway and Interstate 75, or the main gift shop and The Women’s Shoppe boutique at WellStar Kennestone Hospital.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: The public can call (770) 421-7474 to reach the studio and place an order.
OPEN HOUSE: Dec. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Atherton Place, where families of residents can visit the studio and buy some of their work.