Activity center

Drawing with Janice Walrafen at the Montpellier Senior Activity Center

Jean Olson draws a skate in a drawing class at the Montpellier activity center for the elderly. Courtesy picture.

By Sarah Lipton

When you enter the Montpellier Senior Activity Center Art Room, you are greeted by a pleasant environment focused on connection, curiosity and creativity. Students of all artistic levels came together to dive into learning with locally renowned teacher Janice Walrafen. Walrafen teaches three courses at the senior center: “Drawing Basics”, “Drawing Nature” (which will resume in the spring semester from April 4) and “Manual Construction with Clay”.

Drawing Basics is a refreshing art course that asks students: have you always wanted to draw, but don’t know where to start? Do you like to draw, but need time to do it? Most often working from life, each class presents a different skill or purpose from which to draw, including outline, value, color, perspective, foreshortening, portraits, proportions, composition, etc The groups mix and Walrafen leads the class with different techniques. Everyone has different skill levels, some have drawn all their life, some haven’t since high school.

“It’s so interesting to see people drawing the same object because you can see how differently we all see it,” says Bob Barrett, repeating in class. “If someone says to you, draw an apple, you think you know what an apple looks like. But it’s a whole different thing than actually seeing the apple in front of you and trying to capture it,” Barrett continues.

“‘Draw what you see, not what you think,’ Janice tells us,” adds her classmate Susan Gerretson. “Janice really teaches us to see and see things in a new way. I haven’t drawn since high school, but that’s the most important thing I learned from his class. Gerretson shares, “and it’s a valuable gift to learn at any age.”

Janice Walrafen is an artist who makes tiles and sculptures by hand from clay and teaches the art to people of all ages. She also co-creates at AllTogetherNow! Community Arts Center in Montpellier Est.

“The way Janice teaches gives me the opportunity to broaden my horizons with drawing. It helps me look at art in a totally different way,” Barrett shares. The two students also described how the non-judgmental creative process allows them to develop their skills through positive feedback. Instead of creating based on a preconceived outcome, which can lead to a lot of fear in the process, Janice creates a safe space in which to share and show her work in class. This is also valuable, as the class itself provides a social outlet for students, especially in the wake of the pandemic. As Gerretson shared, “I moved here during the pandemic and this course provided me with much-needed socialization experience. As a newcomer, it helped me better integrate into the community. C is a way to connect.

Registration is now open at the Senior Activity Center for the spring semester, with over 30 courses on the list. To visit

Sarah Lipton is the director of the activity center for the elderly in Montpellier.