Resident Becomes a Painter During Pandemic

February 01, 2021

Bobbie Harlan

By Terrie M. Roberts

When Bobbie Harlan, 91, looks back on her time in a pandemic and reflects on whether or not she made the most of isolation, she need look no further than the walls of her Garden Apartments at The Oaks residence.

She became a painter! A prolific one at that.

It is doubtful Harlan’s daughter Liz Slay had the foresight to know that COVID-19 would upend our lives for not just weeks, or months but for more than a year. But, she knew that a lockdown of any duration at her mother’s age would not be mentally healthy, so “I tried to think of something that would occupy her mind,” she says, from her home in Hernando, Mississippi.

She sent her mother several paint-by-numbers kits “and it just took off,” Slay says.

Harlan, who is recovering from a stroke and has poor vision in one eye, was unsure of her ability to master the intricate paint-by-number style paintings. Some take days, weeks or even months to complete.

“She loves doing them,” Slay says. “I had no idea it would mean this much to her. It has been a lifesaver and changed her outlook during this time. It has given her something to do and something to do for others. She is giving paintings to her children and grandchildren – leaving a legacy. I think that is very important to her.”

Over the course of the past 10 months, Harlan says she has painted a variety of scenes ranging from animals – birds and horses – to flowers and still-lifes. Flowers are her favorite, she says.

Apart from the artistic process Harlan and those who enjoy paint by numbers experience, they get the benefit of boosting their mental health by increasing the dopamine level, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain.

“I have painted 15 so far,” Harlan says. “Sometimes it takes me three or four weeks to complete one, but painting has kept me from going crazy in this crazy time.”