More MS news articles for July 2002

Computer-generated artwork brings award to ex-engineer

When arthritis set in, Pleasanton woman went from paintbrush to mouse to create her compositions

Sun, Jul. 07, 2002
By Andrea Widener

PLEASANTON - The landscape mounted high on a wall at the Alameda County Fair has the surreal feel of a watercolor in the bright blues of its water, the purple gray of its cliffs.

But no paints were spilled to create this design, no pastel dust littered the art room floor, no black ink stained hands or brushes.

Instead, this artwork was created purely on computer, submitted by an artist living in a senior center.

Articulate and friendly, the artist, Darleen McDaniel, lives just a few blocks from the fair, in a shared nursing home room. The walls are filled with posters of San Francisco 49ers players and her own art, including pastels of flowers, crayon renderings of churches and watercolors of Crater Lake, near the Oregon town where she grew up.

But when arthritis and multiple sclerosis made paints and pastels too painful, McDaniel turned to the computer to continue pursuing her art.

"She's a first," said Donna Hahn, who supervises the fair's special exhibits. "She is setting a precedent."

McDaniel's gray computer has also given her freedom outside art. She surfs the Internet and e-mails with friends, using both hands to push the mouse in the right direction.

"Being in a rest home, you think you have all the time in the world," she said. The computer "makes my time go way faster."

The fair's exhibit from artists living in senior centers is one of the many special exhibit categories. There are also divisions for artists who are blind, developmentally disabled or in special medical facilities. This year, those submissions, 162 in all, are mixed in with art from all other artists, but they are judged separately.

McDaniel, now 76, hadn't really thought about art until ill health sent her into the Pleasanton Health Care Center in 1986. Born in Chico and raised in Klamath Falls, Ore., McDaniel went to the University of Oregon and Oregon State, where she got a degree in engineering.

She moved back to California when she got a job as a naval architect working on, among other things, the Polaris submarine. In 1960, she took a job in Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's nuclear weapons testing division, where she worked as a mechanical engineer until she retired in 1986. She never married or had children.

A year after McDaniel quit working, she got so sick she couldn't remain at home, so she moved into the nursing home.

"I didn't want to learn art. They practically made me to sit in there," McDaniel said, gesturing toward a common room behind her.

Maybe it was her drafting background, but it turned out McDaniel is talented. The first year, when she reluctantly submitted a pastel to the fair, she won an honorable mention. Then she won third place, then second, until finally she was winning first place or grand prize.

Over time, though, her hands became gradually more gnarled by arthritis, their fingers bending painfully in toward her wrists.

"My hand became crippled, and I couldn't do that any more," she said, her hands resting together on the desk attached to her upright black wheelchair. The computer is much easier, she explained. "You only have to use one finger for that."

Cynthia Flaherty, a volunteer who visits every Saturday, says McDaniel has been quick to learn new programs to make her art a bit easier.

"She is just as sharp as a tack," Flaherty said. "There is just not anything she couldn't do, really, beyond her physical limitations."

Adjusting to computer art has had its difficulties. For now, she's sticking to landscapes, which are a bit easier than the details of a dog or a flower. With landscapes, "It doesn't have to be perfect. If you make a mistake it doesn't show," she said

Besides, the computer has one other advantage.

"I like the computer. It's not as messy."

Copyright 2002, Contra Costa Times