Art teacher and students celebrate relationship that has stretched over decades


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By Philip Sean Curran
Staff Writer

Hannah Fink started teaching art to senior citizens in Princeton in the mid-1980s and Naomi Reich was one of her first students.

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Fink is still teaching and Reich, 96, is still taking her classes. On a recent Friday morning, the two of them sat around a table in the Suzanne Patterson Building, home of the Princeton Senior Resource Center, with two of Fink’s other long-time students to reminisce and reflect on their shared experience.

“We became close friends,” said Martha Kingsley, 93. “Hannah is wonderful.”

“There have been a lot of students in this class who are not alive anymore or moved away,” Fink said. “We feel very connected to each other. We keep in touch.”

Fink, who holds a master’s in art, has taught at The College of New Jersey and elsewhere. At Union County College, where she worked, there was a program where she would go out to teach at senior centers and retirement homes.

“That got me interested in teaching this population,” Fink said.

Fink began teaching the women when she was in her late 30s and has seen herself become a senior citizen, now at 70, during the time she has been working with them. For a time, she lived in California for two years, so her class has not been continuous for the entire time she has known Kingsley, Reich and Roslyn Dayan, the other student who has been with her the longest.

“It’s been challenging to me, because I need to make it interesting every week,” Fink said of having the same students for so long. “So unlike most of the other art teachers, I start off with a lecture … usually about an artist. And now, in the last two years, I’m trying to find new and different artists so I’m not repeating the same thing.”

“I learned an awful lot,” said Dayan, 89, of taking Fink’s class, even though she concedes she is not a natural artist.

“Yes, you are,” Fink chimed in laughing. “You all are now.”

Dayan, Reich and Kingsley, all of whom are retired teachers, are members of the same synagogue, The Jewish Center, in Princeton, and have known one another for decades. Reich took up art as a hobby after retiring, a way to fill up her time. She tried the art class and became a regular.

“Seniors schedule themselves to a certain rhythm of living,” she said. “So we knew we had art on such a day, we have exercise on such a day, we go to a lecture on such a day. It’s habit-forming. You develop as you go along.”

Kingsley had to stop taking the class and is now living in a retirement community in Montgomery.

At the senior center, some of the women’s work hangs on the walls for a show that was scheduled to open on Nov. 8 and run through the end of the month. They walked through the building looking at their work and commenting about their pieces along the way.

“I work slowly, because I’m not a real artist,” said Dayan, who paused to explain one of her art works, “The Big Migration North,” a collage made of small pieces of paper. In it, she depicts people on a train going from the south.

Of her artwork, Reich said it has “potential.”

“If I gave my all to it, it might be something. But I don’t,” she said.

“Actually, I’m quite proud of my work,” Kingsley said. “When I look at my living room and it has all those paintings all over, I think to myself, ‘Did I really do this?’ I’m surprised that I did some of these paintings.”

At one point, Fink sought to explain the longevity of the teacher-student relationship she has enjoyed with the three women.

“I think art feeds people in a way nothing else does,” she said. “Being able to sit and focus your energy and create something is a great thing to do.”

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