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Life gets better

Art show embraces aging and womanhood

From left: Artists Melanie Fry, Cynthia Marcoux, and Kim Doner pose for a photo with the mannequin on Marcoux’ front porch.

Greg Bollinger

More than a dozen women are coming together for an art show that examines and celebrates aging, and they want to let you in on a secret: Life gets better over time.

“I have been happier the last several years than I have ever been in my entire life,” artist Kim Doner said. “It’s like you’re on a roll. You start letting go.”

Artist and curator Melanie Fry has embraced aging because she can do as she pleases. “If it doesn’t involve fun or play, screw it, I won’t do it,” said Fry, a semi-retired psychotherapist. “I will not participate in anything that does not bring me joy, or that I can’t bring joy to other people [with]. It just isn’t worth it. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve aged.”

That’s what ignited the spark for “Fireflies: A Crone’s Tale,” which will feature work by women ages 55 and older.

A longtime Tulsa theatre actress—you may remember her as Joyce Martel—Fry learned early on about the unique social expectations women face. But as time passed, she cared less about the expectations of others and more about her own.

“When I turned 45 or 50 and I got real silver hair, I became invisible and noticed that I didn’t seem to have as much value in the culture. Since about 60 I’ve really been working on the inside,” she said. “I really want to be healthy. I want to teach, or show or explore with women, what self-care really is.”

That’s the idea behind “Fireflies,” opening March 8 at Liggett Studio. The show explores aging and womanhood. “I want other women to express their experience aging and what it looks like in their internal lives and their culture and their families—their legacies, what they’re going to leave to people,” Fry said.

Aging has just meant more freedom for Doner, whose work will be featured in the show. She started illustrating more than 30 years ago and has worked on countless children’s and young adult books, doing some writing as well. “The pieces I’m doing for the women’s show are all going to have chameleons in them,” Doner said. She identifies with the way chameleons adapt to their surroundings.

“I have my thumb in all sorts of pies, and I always have,” Doner said. “Some people say, ‘Don’t you focus on anything?’ And it’s like, well, yeah—I focus on everything!”

Cynthia Marcoux, another artist in the show, stressed the importance of pursuing what interests you, even if it isn’t especially productive. She expanded her skillset  after working for 28 years as the exhibits artist at Tulsa Zoo.

“I learned how to do practically everything—sculpture, concrete work, plasterwork—and I learned how to use everything. Now if I want to try something, I try it,” Marcoux said. She recently tried her hand at taxidermy, though she quickly realized that wasn’t for her. Colored pencils are her primary medium, but lately she’s been working on a beaded Barbie doll, which will be on display at the show.

In addition, “Fireflies” will include a performance component on March 30—for women only.

“I’m trying to get the balls on the performance night to wear a two-piece bathing suit because I want to discuss my body,” Fry said. “It’s a 67-year-old body that has kicked ass and served me well. I was a performer. If you saw any pictures or anything like that, I had a great body. Now I’m just a little lumpy old lady, and I think, ‘Oh bummer, I don’t have that anymore,’ but man I love what I got.”

The women-only performance night is meant to encourage an environment where they can feel more at ease. Fry hopes to foster a sense of community among women—one that she’s found later in life with the artists featured in the show.

This community of women artists has given Marcoux a sense of belonging that she didn’t necessarily expect to find. “I never thought at this age I would be making a lot of good friends, but I have made some really good friends just in the last couple of years from meeting these women,” she said. “And they’re all very supportive and wonderful.”

Connection is a priority for Fry, who started a senior co-housing community a few years ago. While doing research for the project, she discovered something profound: “The most important thing about aging and gaining in a healthy way—yes, diet and exercise are important—but it’s community. It’s connection. It’s engagement.”

Fireflies: A Crone’s Tale
March 8–April 6
Liggett Studio, 314 S. Kenosha Ave., Tulsa

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