Beth Barker and her art.

Beth Barker has always loved penguins – and it makes sense, they look like they’re wearing tuxedos, they mate for life, and they are undeniably adorable. That’s why she decided to paint one for the Cottage Grove Art Walk. 

“I don’t know why but I’ve always loved them,” she said, twirling a bedazzled penguin pendant between her fingers. “I had fun painting it and was really careful. I wanted to get it right, especially since it’s up for auction.” 

Barker is a photographer, a Springfield/Eugene native, and a resident at Middlefield Oaks Senior Living in Cottage Grove. Her artwork, along with paintings produced by other Middlefield Oaks residents, will be featured at the Cottage Grove Art Walk at the end of the month. The paintings are up for auction online, with all proceeds going toward a scholarship fund awarded to Cottage Grove High School students, called the Junior First Citizens Scholarship. 

Chamber Ambassadors work every year to produce group events and fundraisers that generate donations to raise scholarship funds, but over the past two years COVID-19 mandates limited group activities and events, which often challenged fundraising efforts. This year, the Ambassadors welcomed the help of residents from Middlefield Oaks Senior Living, inviting the public to offer donations for their paintings. The Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce currently has the residents’ artwork on display in the Chamber’s business office window for a few weeks until Art Walk, while also accepting donations from the public. 

Chamber Ambassador Alyssa Gomez

“It hasn’t been easy to conduct events and fundraisers during the past two years due to COVID-19 rules limiting group activities and events,” said Chamber CEO Shauna Neigh. “This year we are collaborating with the residents of Middlefield Oaks Senior Living and offering a virtual fundraiser online and via Art Walk.”  

Barker is a grandmother of five, and spent many years of her life volunteering and giving back to the community. To her, these paintings are a way to give back to future generations. “It shows us we have a sense of value,” she said, tearing up. “Especially having limitations with the body, you start feeling like you don’t have much use. But with this we are actually doing something for the community. We have value to our community, to our neighbors, and to where we live.” 

Middlefield Oaks resident Chris Kolstad

After a long battle with cancer, Beth said that, “the Lord told me to pick up my camera, to get outside and take pictures.” Creating art is a way for her to go adventuring, to face her fears, and to see the world through a new lens. “I even went up in one of those bucket lifts, in my chair and everything, to get some overhead shots,” she said, laughing. “Photography saved my life and helped me in rehabilitating my body. Art has always been the thing that’s helped me. And now it gets to help other people too.” 

Linda LaZar, Middlefield Oaks’ Community Relations Director, told me about one of the paintings that impacted her the most. “There are several that stand out to me, especially one of the pieces that was painted by a resident in Memory Care,” she said. “She painted what she felt, and the piece was painted with bright, cheerful pink paint around the edges, with a completely white center, void of design and color. As I looked at the painting, for the first time, I was able to understand how she felt inside. Dementia is insidious. It steals the cognitive capabilities of incredible people who lived wonderful lives. They are still creative, they still have kind hearts and a desire to be helpful and loved.” 

The artwork is already receiving donations. “When members of our management team at Middlefield Oaks saw the artwork, they began offering donations immediately,” said Heather Arnason, Middlefield’s Executive Director. “The first donation brought in $100 for a painting created by a resident of memory care, and the excitement of our residents is inspiring and heartwarming.” 

After talking with Beth – an artist in her own right – an accomplished photographer, and a loving grandma, I asked what she’d like to say to the students who would be receiving the scholarship. “You got this. You can do this,” she said. “When it gets really tough, you keep hanging in there knowing there are a lot of people who love you.” 

The artwork is available to the public at the Chamber of Commerce, or visit the virtual gallery at: 32auctions.com/MiddlefieldPaints.