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Art is way of life for this Wilsonville resident


Artist taught herself to paint with left hand after a stroke left her partially paralyzed

by: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville resident Jean Acker was honored for a lifetime of selfless giving and artistic expression at Marquis Wilsonville, where she lives.by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA / DETAIL: JEAN ACKER - Jean Acker's self-portrait shows off one of her earliest pieces. Now 99 years old, Acker started painting after the age of 50. She may not be a professional artist in the conventionally understood meaning of the term.

No, she was never interested in selling or marketing her work. But the painting being done by Wilsonville resident Jean Acker still demands your respect all the same.

Now 99 years old, Acker lives at Marquis Care Wilsonville, a long-term, post-acute and rehabilitation care facility on the south side of the city. Recently her artwork was put on display in a common area at the facility, and family and friends gathered together to recognize a lifetime of art.

The event was part of Marquis Care’s New Chapters program, which connects residents with their favorite or most memorable activities or events.

The years have run together somewhat for Acker, which is entirely understandable when you’ve lived through so many of them. But one common thread along the way has been art.

“I don’t know when I started,” she said, adding that flowers are now her favorite subjects. “I take the scenes as they come.”

It was probably more work for Acker to conduct a brief interview than it is for her to paint. She already shies away from attention, and a stroke suffered at age 84 has left her paralyzed on one side of her body.

“She has taught herself to paint with her left hand,” said Angelica Williams, activities coordinator at Marquis Wilsonville. “That’s what makes the second phase of her artwork all the more remarkable.”

Acker originally took up painting after turning 50. Her husband would craft elaborate frames for her work, some of which were on display last week. But when he died, so did Acker’s passion for painting.

She took up other forms of art instead, including knitting, sewing and the needlepoint that originally earned her a national award back when she was in high school.

Despite the stroke, she managed to recover and care for herself for another six years before moving into a long-term care facility. Four years ago she made the move to Marquis Wilsonville. That’s where she rediscovered her love of painting. by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA / DETAIL: JEAN ACKER - Flowers, as in this painting here, are Jean Acker's favorite subject to render in paint.

“She discovered art classes that we hold once a week,” Williams said. “And we give them three colors of poster paint, so when you look at her paintings I want you to see how she mixes the paint and the depth of the variety of reds or different colors she gets into one painting. And also the brushwork and how she does the texturing, she just uses these two little brushes, that’s all she does. She usually in class paints two pictures.”

Six months ago, Acker’s grandson gave her a gift of pastels. That just led to greater color in her work.

“When I go to greet Jean in the morning now, Jean is sitting at her desk doing her pastels,” Williams said.

Two of her most memorable pieces date back many years. One is a rendition of a newspaper photo published when she was just a girl. It shows her standing next to an 11-foot-tall sunflower plant. It’s an idyllic scene that contrasts greatly with another, very different work that depicts two members of the rock band KISS.

Done at the behest of her grandson, Acker’s Rolling Stone-worthy work is still remembered fondly by the family and is providing inspiration for those who know her today.

“To be an inspiration for the people in the community,” Williams said, “It’s about saying that even if you’re 99 and can’t use your dominant hand, you can still make beautiful artwork.”

Josh Kulla can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 113. Follow him on Twitter, @wspokesman.