One of the most dreaded tasks people face when they move to senior housing is downsizing. The expectation is that they will shed most of a lifetime's worth of treasures so their stuff will fit tidily into a one-bedroom apartment. They get to keep, at most, a handful of their favorite pieces of art.
That is not what Myrna Bloom did.
When Bloom, an artist, moved to the Watermark at Logan Square four years ago, she brought dozens of paintings and sculptures with her. In December, she decided to do something even more unusual: She opened her apartment to fellow residents — by appointment — as an art gallery.
There are now 157 paintings and prints hung Barnes Foundation-style on her walls. Her flowing, abstract sculptures top every table, including the one in the dining room, where she never eats. There's art on the kitchen counter. It starts before you even enter the door that says "Myrna's Gallery," which is framed by two sculptures.
Her gallery has been the talk of the Center City retirement community, which has 263 independent-living apartments, said CEO Jennifer Tapner. "You need to go up there," residents told Tapner of Bloom's apartment, which is on the 24th floor. "It's so much fun."
When she finally did, Tapner was astounded by how much art Bloom had managed to pack in, but she was more impressed with Bloom's willingness to open up and bring her fellow residents beauty and joy. "I just thought it was genius, what she did," Tapner said. She said enrollment in art classes has risen lately, though she can't be sure Bloom is responsible.
The gallery has helped Bloom, 79, make friends, which is important at a time of life when loneliness is rampant and corrosive. It has also brought her praise — and a few sales. Her reaction to that is a reminder that people of all ages long for productivity, creative expression, and recognition.
She recalls with a mixture of amusement and pride what one fellow resident said to her: "Are you the famous artist on the 24th floor who has the museum-quality art? I have to come see that." She loves it when people buy her work. "It's deeply gratifying, deeply, and very thrilling to me when people like my work enough that they want to live with it."
The crowds have thinned since her opening, but she hopes to finish upgrading her website soon and attract more visitors.
Tapner said many see moving to places such as Watermark as an ending, a sign that they must give up longtime pleasures. Bloom, she said, is showing a different way to adapt. "I always tell people that it's just a new and exciting chapter," Tapner said, "and I think that she embraces that."
The art in Bloom's apartment is all her own, unless you count her collection of blue glass containers. "Famous" might be an exaggeration, but she has a degree in painting and sculpture from Temple University's Tyler School of Art and has had, she said, 16 one-person shows. Replicas of her bronze sculpture, Balance, were given to recipients of the Hazlett Memorial Award for Excellence in the Arts in Pennsylvania between 1980 and 1985, she said. She prices her work from under $100 for newer prints to $18,500 for a large sculpture called Soaring from the Steps of the Podium.
Bloom's earliest work involved lots of drawings of singer Perry Como. After her two sons were born, she got her formal training in art and began painting. She also worked with her then-husband in an Oriental rug business. She collected the rugs and ran a business selling books about them after that marriage broke up. She later married Richard Marcus, who owned Crazy Richard's Peanut Butter Co. Her rugs, but not her art, had to go when they moved to a condo in Florida. He died a month after they moved to the Watermark.
The rooms in her apartment reflect an eclectic artistic sensibility. A visitor to one of her shows once told her it looked like a "12-person show," and it's easy to see why. Her oils are dark, detailed, and representational. The acrylics are lighter, brighter, and looser. There are moody charcoal drawings of clouds. The sculptures are smooth and flowing. Her latest work makes creative use of a medium that fits in an apartment: an inkjet printer. She puts objects — flowers from the Watermark dining room, lace, her mother's gold-plated teacups, shells — on the screen and moves or swirls them as the light moves across. She has no scientific explanation for how they turn out the way they do, but they are full of surprising color and light. Tapner bought five of them to display near the dining room entrance. When Bloom sells a piece, she adds another to take its place.
Hers is not the home of a hoarder. The art is thoughtfully arranged, and there are no piles of clutter. Her beloved classical music plays quietly.
Asked whether it felt odd to be so immersed in her own creations, she said that each artwork reflects a piece of her, an offering of the best she had to give at that time.
"It's home. It's me," she said. "It's all part of me, and that feels comforting."