Heights Herald/CATRINA RAWSON - Doris Checksfield, a resident of Indian Oaks Living Center, looks over her drawings in her room Nov. 3 in Harker Heights.

By Kim Steele

Harker Heights Herald

For a year and a half, Doris Checksfield languished in the locked Alzheimer's unit at Indian Oaks Living Center in Harker Heights.

Checksfield, 87, was moved to the living center Dec. 3, 2009, from Amsterdam, N.Y., by her only son, James Checksfield, who lives in Kempner.

After a thorough medical check-up, doctors said Doris Checksfield was suffering from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's and recommended she be placed in the Alzheimer's unit at Indian Oaks Living Center, said James Checksfield.

While Doris Checksfield spent much of the time alone in her room, she quickly discovered a way to transport herself out of the locked facility and beyond the silence of residents who could no longer communicate. She picked up a black Sharpie fine ink pen and began drawing again.

"When you go to an Alzheimer's facility where people have very advanced stages, you have to keep your mind occupied because you can be so sympathetic that you fall apart," she said. "Drawing was a godsend. When I drew, I felt like I was in the picture, and that helped because it was an escape."

Doris Checksfield sat at a small table last week in her new room in the unsecured front building at Indian Oaks Living Center, chatting and thumbing through a large stack of pen-and-ink drawings. Most of the 300-plus intricate drawings were completed during her stay in the Alzheimer's unit.

Display in December

To everyone's surprise, including the artist's, they will be displayed to the public during an all-day show Dec. 12 at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, 3601 South W.S. Young Drive. The drawings will be framed and mounted along with work from two other local artists.

"I'm very amazed at the whole thing," she said. "I didn't expect any of this, and I'm speechless and quite nervous about it. It's amazing that something like this has happened. Just unbelievable. I feel blessed."

James Checksfield said his mother was unexpectedly moved three months ago to her new room, and he was happy to see it happen. He said he had questioned his mother's placement in the locked unit several times, but he believed the doctors caring for her knew what they were doing.

"She's flourishing now and doing fine," said James Checksfield, who works at KNCT radio at Central Texas College. "She has more freedom, and she's enjoying life again. Her drawings are getting better all the time, and they're more complex and detailed than anything she's ever done. It's just amazing."

Myrna Sahagun, life enrichment director for the living center, agreed, noting that Doris Checksfield has blossomed since she moved out of the Alzheimer's unit. Sahagun said the artist-in-residence not only enjoys sharing her drawings, but she loves interacting with the other residents.

"I think that drawing raises her self-esteem," said Sahagun. "She's very humble and she doesn't think she does that great a job on her artwork. But she has so much talent. She's having a blast, and I feel very fortunate to have her here as a resident. Her work speaks for itself."

Long love of art

Doris Checksfield has a long history of art involvement, from pencil drawings to painting with acrylics to crafting pillows and aprons. She owned an arts and craft shop called "The Purple Plum" from 1976 to 1989 in New York. But it all took a backseat after her husband suffered seven heart attacks.

"For 20 years, I didn't pick up a pen or pencil because I was busy with my house and my family," she said. "It wasn't until I came here and I needed it that it all came back to me. I just decided that I had to have something to keep the stress down. It's relaxing and I enjoy it."

Doris Checksfield pointed out some of her drawings - an African ant sitting on a carrot plant, a lighthouse situated on the coast, a dragonfly resting on a flowered background and a busy farm scene. Most of her ideas, she said, comes from magazines or items around her.

As family and friends watched, she held up a magnifying glass and proceeded to outline rows of tiny circles surrounding an intricate rendering of her family's last name. She paused to explain the circles are beads that depicts her family's Native American background.

Granddaughter Andrea Checksfield-Dowling, who lives in Copperas Cove, said the family brings in two large tablets of drawing paper each month so Doris Checksfield can create her works. The artist joked she could be an advertisement for Sharpie pens because she has gone through at least 50 since she moved in.

In fact, she is so prolific that her artwork has been noticed by others living in the nursing home since she moved up front, and the information passed on to the guests who visit them. One such guest was Ron Foster, a concert promoter and the chief executive officer of Ktcok Enterprises in Temple.

Foster, whose relative is a resident in the nursing home, asked Rhea Brown to take a look at Doris Checksfield's drawings. Brown, a painter, owns Cordovan Art School in Harker Heights and teaches an after-school art program in Killeen.

"I think they are beautiful," said Brown. "Her drawings are amazing, and she should have no problem displaying them."

"I love this," said Andrea Checksfield-Dowling, noting her grandmother draws greeting cards for every occasion. "I'm so used to seeing her drawings that it's normal for me. I think this will be a good opportunity for her, and other people will get to enjoy what we've had for years."

Contact Kim Steele at ksteele@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7567.

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