Ena Cooper loved to paint, write, garden and play the piano.
At family gatherings, she was a magnet.
RONI GALGANO /
Ninety-year-old Ruth Goldfarb (right)
received pointers and encouragement from Linda Bounds
during an art lesson while Goldfarb's son, Stephen, looked
But Cooper slowly began fading away, leaving an almost silent
The tide of Cooper's long descent into dementia turned a
year ago when her daughter, Shoshanah Tov, found an art class
for Alzheimer's patients called Leaps & Bounds. Despite
her mother's feeble protestations, Tov enrolled her in the
class, taught by volunteer Linda Bounds.
"She hadn't picked up a paintbrush in years," Tov said of
her mother. "Everything had gone away by the time we got to
When Cooper first met Bounds, she avoided eye contact and
stared out the window. When Bounds asked her if she wanted
to paint, Cooper mumbled, "I don't know," her daughter remembered.
Within a couple of sessions, Bounds, with her enthusiastic
encouragement, had Cooper painting like an impressionist master,
daubing a little yellow ochre here, a little red cadmium there.
Over the months, colorful oil paintings came to life. And
to a degree, so did Cooper.
"She was improving, which is a crazy thing to say with Alzheimer's,"
said Tov, noting that her mother was more talkative than she
had been in years. "She was more aware. She had a sense of
humor again. You could see more bits of herself."
On days when Bounds asked Cooper if she was too tired to paint,
the reply came firmly, "No, no. I don't want to stop."
RONI GALGANO /
At Linda Bounds' East Village art
studio, several paintings in progress by Leaps & Bounds
students rest on easels between class days.
The idea for Leaps & Bounds was born in 2000, the year
Bounds began painting a new self-portrait. She quit her 15-year
career as a high school guidance counselor and went through
a divorce she never saw coming. This mother of two 20-something
children faced a clean canvas.
She decided to teach oil painting. There were watercolor
and pastel classes around town, but nobody seemed to be teaching
oil painting. Bounds knew she could fill the void with her
art background that spanned more than 25 years.
After talking with a friend who is a social worker at an
adult rehabilitation center in East County, Bounds decided
to teach seniors. She found herself saying, "Let me see if
I can make these people's lives a little bit better."
She bought her own supplies and donated her time. Four years
later, Bounds still donates her time, but the assisted living
facilities pay for supplies.
Bounds teaches memory-impaired seniors at several places
around the county, including assisted living centers in Carlsbad,
La Jolla and Rancho Peñasquitos. In addition to
her volunteer work, Bounds has paying clients – people with
disabilities, troubled youth and seniors – at her art studio
in East Village.
Painting has worked wonders for Marcia Buchalter's
91-year-old mother, Charlotte.
"When you let someone stagnate, when you let them sit around
with not much to do, they spiral down very, very, very quickly,"
Marcia Buchalter said. "It (Leaps & Bounds) gives my mother
a way to express herself. She doesn't have that vacant look
in her eyes. She is focused and concentrating. She becomes
And her mother adores Bounds, Buchalter said. "She would
do anything for her. Linda connects with her on a level I
Watching Bounds paint with 10 women at The Arbors Assisted
Living center in Rancho Peñasquitos, it is easy to see how
she inspires her students to get into the spirit of Monet
or Gauguin, even on days when they are tired or don't feel
Bounds held up a canvas with yellow and blue triangular splotches
and asked her students to guess what the painting would be
in the end. "A mountain," one woman offered from her wheelchair.
"A pyramid," another woman suggested.
The splotches were the beginning of a village scene from
a work by Monet, Bounds explained as she displayed a color
photograph of the completed work. The women will take turns
adding to the painting for two or three months, referring
to the picture for guidance.
Two by two, they came to the canvas, Bounds crouched between
them to offer instruction and praise.
"Tell your brain to go from here to here," she told Lilli
Collins as Collins hesitantly placed her brush midair in front
of the canvas.
"Oh, it's going to get wilder before it gets better," Bounds
said to the class. She often has to prod her students to put
brush to canvas, especially those who are new to the class
and new to painting.
"There is no such thing as a mistake," Bounds said, reciting
her familiar mantra. "I'm going to show you that not only
can you not make a mistake, you will use it to your advantage."
Ninety-year-old Ruth Goldfarb studied art at the New
York Academy of Design and modeled for other artists in the
1930s. But during the past 15 years, as the demands of caring
for her ailing husband and her own failing health took precedence,
her art fell by the wayside. Her three children noted the
depression, health problems and lack of interest in daily
This year, Goldfarb began art classes at the Jacob Health
Care Center in East San Diego where she lives. Recently, at
Leaps & Bounds' first public exhibition at Bounds' downtown
studio, nearly a dozen of her paintings were on display. While
much of their time is spent copying the works of famous painters,
some of Bounds' students create original pieces of art.
Stephen Goldfarb, Ruth's son and a clinical psychologist,
said Leaps & Bounds gives his mother something meaningful
to look forward to.
"Her thoughts often had to do with her imminent passing away
and that her life was basically in the past and over for her,"
Bounds changed all that.
"I see a brightening of her outlook and a real genuine interest
in the work she is doing," he said of his mother.
She doesn't remember what happens from session to session,
he said, but she always remembers Bounds and speaks glowingly
of her technique.
"(Bounds') obvious love for the people she works with is
really what creates the atmosphere that allows all this to
work," Goldfarb said. "That is so critically important for
this patient population."
Bounds forms deep attachments with her students, calling
them her children, her parents, her family all rolled into
one. Over the years, she has had to cope with many deaths.
"When I got into this, it didn't occur to me that people
were going to die on me. I was just going to go keep people
company," Bounds said.
"I've said a lot of goodbyes. But I don't feel they ever
leave me. I feel my room is full. They are all here, cheering
me on. I am very grateful."
Ena Cooper passed away in May, six days shy of her 88th birthday.
She had a stroke while painting in Bounds' class and died
four days later.
"The end could have been so horrible, but honestly, it wasn't
horrible," Shoshanah Tov said, reflecting on her mother's
last year of life. "Finding Linda just made all the difference.
Linda gave her so much love."
Caroline Dipping is a Union-Tribune news assistant.