Dementia robs Roxborough artist of the ability to paint

 (Courtesy of Patrick Ross Arnold)

(Courtesy of Patrick Ross Arnold)

The bushes in front of a six-bedroom Roxborough house are wild-looking and there’s a pile of mail strewn in front of the door. The door opens to reveal a man with a gray beard wearing dark green sweatpants. With a faraway look in his eyes, bespectacled Patrick Ross Arnold looks like your middle school art teacher.

 

That’s just what he did before he retired. Arnold taught painting and drawing most recently at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but he gave it up after the diagnosis. Three years ago, a neurologist diagnosed then-59-year-old Arnold with frontotemporal degeneration, a little-known form of dementia where misfolded forms of proteins cause brain cells in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain to stop functioning properly.

Arnold’s wife, Addie Kaplan, knew something was wrong when Arnold started up his car and tried to pull off without removing the club on the steering wheel. She’d come home multiple times to find that he’d spent the day doing nothing but reading. She asked his doctor in person, over the phone and in writing, to check him out. Kaplan says his doctor repeatedly ignored her inquiries. They sought a second opinion and were sent to a neurologist, who quickly identified Arnold’s frontotemporal degeneration.

Daily life

Kaplan is now in the process of interviewing a caretaker because she doesn’t want him home alone. He forgets that he started cooking an egg, for instance, and smokes up the whole house, or forgets that he turned on the water and leaves it running. She worries.

In the living room of their Leverington Avenue house, there are framed works of art leaning against walls and furniture legs three and four deep, and piles of unframed paintings lay in boxes on the coffee table.

Arnold sits quietly in an armchair and flips through an Eddie Bauer catalog while Kaplan answers questions about Arnold’s diagnosis and his life before and after. “What are you thinking?” Kaplan asks Arnold at one point. “Nothing,” he says.

Arnold, no longer teaching, spends most of his days reading. No painting for him. After his diagnosis, Kaplan bought Arnold poster paints and paper. Arnold produced one piece, mostly stripes, and that’s the last time he ever painted. “He has no desire to paint,” she said later.

Surrounded by so much of his very colorful – there are lots of pinks, reds and oranges – artwork, it seems like a big personality change. Roughly half of all patients with frontotemporal degeneration present with a change in personality known as behavioral variant frontotemporal degeneration, said Dr. Murray Grossman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Frontotemporal Degeneration Center, and Arnold’s doctor.

The couple holds hands and stand together to take a picture by two large paintings, and Arnold returns to a conversation about their cat’s visit to the vet. They watch the cat for a moment, lost in thought with smiles on their faces, before they turn back to face the camera.

A big move

Kaplan, who works as a grants writer, is looking a two-bedroom condo in Penn Valley for her, Arnold and their cat. Their three-story, six-bedroom house is just too big, and when they move, they won’t have room for all of the art Arnold produced over his lifetime, so the couple, together 17 years, have set up for an art sale they’re hosting on Oct. 5 and 6.

More than 100 framed drawings and oil paintings, as well as more than 400 unframed works, all by Arnold, are up for sale with prices starting at $65. Of the proceeds, 10 percent will go to the Radnor, PA-based Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, a nonprofit founded in 2002 that advocates for more funding to understand causes and treatments and that provides caregivers and patients with a central place to find information and support.

Kaplan can take the boxed works with her, but will have less room for framed pieces when they move. “I’m looking for good homes for paintings,” Kaplan says.

RSVP to Addie Kaplan via email, addie@akaplangrantwriter.com, to attend the art sale. It will take place at Patrick Ross Arnold and Addie Kaplan’s home in Roxborough.

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