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  • A thousand words

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    A thousand words

    In a tribute to nursing home residents who have passed away, an artist's mural depicts a peaceful garden and carefully painted butterflies set free from pain.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 1, 2001


    For five days, artist Mitch Kolbe drove from his Tarpon Springs home to Encore Senior Village in Clearwater and painted reeds, live oaks and 18 butterflies on a wall in the community room.

    As he painted, he did a lot of thinking about his great-grandmother, Julie Culp, who died more than two decades ago at a Charlotte, N.C., nursing home when she was nearly 100.

    When he was done, the Encore staff named the mural The Celebration Garden in honor of the 18 people who have died since the Alzheimer's and dementia care facility opened in October 1999. The center is inviting anyone who is interested to come see it -- especially those who have lost a family member or friend to the diseases.

    But in Kolbe's mind, it will always be "Julie's garden."

    Culp, who died not of Alzheimer's, but old age, was made of hearty pioneer stock, said Kolbe, 46. She could make the finest peanut brittle around, weave baskets from pine needles, and make just about anything from a piece of string, a box and a few pieces of wood.

    He said he got his artistic ability from Culp's side of the family. After her husband died, she lived an independent life, helping to raise Kolbe, until she nearly reached the century mark, and Kolbe said the "tough" lady had to go live in a nursing home.

    It was sad to see her there, he said.

    "I'm not sure she was treated right," said Kolbe. "I wish she could have stayed at a place like (Encore)."

    The mural, he said, is in honor of her.

    Kolbe painted the 18 butterflies very carefully, using a reference book so he could get the coloring of the monarch, painted ladies and zebra butterflies just right.

    The mural is impressionistic in style, bright and colorfully reminiscent of a Monet work. Its content, he said, is "totally symbolic."

    "There is a bridge that disappears to nowhere, to a beautiful place," Kolbe said.

    Kathie Gainous, Encore administrator, said all 39 Encore facilities in the United States honor their dead in some way. Gainous chose the butterfly theme because she believes the souls of those who die are released from pain and fly off to a new life.

    "I've lived this journey to the end with all my families," Gainous said, with tears in her eyes. "You get so close to them. You love them."

    Said Dale Davis, community relations coordinator: "They're released from their constraints, and they're free."

    When Linda Seagle, Encore's quality of life coordinator, approached Kolbe to take on the job, he was a bit hesitant. Within the last three years, he was commissioned to do a huge painting for the Trattoria del Porto restaurant at Universal Studios in Orlando. He also did a mural project for Universal, and another one for Disney's Celebration.

    He had hit the big time. And Encore wasn't paying him much, just enough to cover the cost of supplies, Kolbe said.

    But the staff won him over.

    And they didn't stop at the mural. Maintenance director Keith Bush and his wife, Lucy, planted a $650 butterfly garden in a locked, park-like area of the village. The gates are there so patients with "sundown syndrome," the urge to leave the facility in the evenings and go home, don't wander away and get hurt.

    The garden has a wide variety of colorful flowers like hibiscus, to draw the butterflies. It also has wind chimes and small statues.

    During a Celebration of Life ceremony May 5, Kolbe and about 50 relatives of the 18 people who died at Encore released butterflies. Kolbe's butterfly, was released in honor of his great-grandmother.

    "It was a bright yellow sulfur butterfly, flew up into a live oak and stayed there for a while," Kolbe said.

    If you go

    The staff at Encore Senior Village, 620 Belleair Road, Clearwater, welcomes visitors during normal business hours, seven days a week. The mural is located in the community room.

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