Sharon Cleaves: Avesta’s Original Artist in Residence

Sharon Cleaves is an artist of incredible productivity. She is so skilled, in fact, that Avesta has commissioned her to decorate three of their properties (Livermore Terrace, Little Falls Landing, and Unity Gardens, where she now resides) completely with her oil paintings. Over 50 of her works are hung in Unity Gardens, a large, two-story, “L” shaped building with an enormous community room. Her work is colorful and ranges in subjects from Maine landscapes to mysterious cowboys, their faces hidden by tan hats.

Creation is something that simply comes naturally to Sharon, who has been painting all her life. She also built her Windham home on Tandberg Trail. “I thought I’d live in that house forever,” she says. It stands to reason as Sharon had always made her own way in the world, she was proud of her accomplishments, and she answered to no one. She owned a diner in Yarmouth and was accustomed to waking up in the wee hours of the morning. She raised two daughters, one who became a commercial pilot, and one who bore her three grandchildren. For a long time Sharon’s life was manageable living on her own in her own house.

Then in 2003 Sharon fell on a patch of ice. She tore her rotator cuff and lost a substantial amount of strength and flexibility in her shoulder. “I struggled for 2 years after that, trying to keep up with the house,” she explains. After the first year, she heard of Unity Gardens’ construction and applied for an apartment just up the street from her own home. “I would come up and peek in the windows when they were building it to size up the measurements of the apartments and plan where I could fit each of my possessions,” she confesses and then giggles. Perhaps this is a testament to how thorough and prepared Sharon learned to be after raising two children, building a house, and running a successful restaurant throughout the course of her life. She meticulously charted out every square inch of her potential living space because she was compelled to ensure that her space would be conducive to her living requirements.  A year later in August of 2005, she was the first resident to move in, a week before anyone else.

Since then Sharon has stayed active within her community. For three years she taught painting lessons, and after a hiatus, she hopes to start them up again upon receiving multiple requests from other residents. She and her friends (whose first-name initials spell out P.A.L.S.) started the “Stitch and Complain” club (although the residents refer to it by a different name which, while clever and easier to remember, is not quite suitable for print). “That was just a bunch of us old hens getting together, clucking about our sore backs, sore feet, kids, the weather, etc. It was fun and a good release.”

Now Sharon has the social life she wants, with the time, space, and privacy she needs to paint. “It was the best decision I could have made. Of course there are things wrong, but that’s the world. There would be more problems if I were back at my home.” Sharon finds herself in a place where she is happy and optimistic in a new chapter of her life. And on the day when Sharon leaves this world, she plans on having her paintings cover the walls wherever her service is, and when it’s over, her final gift to her loved ones will be for them to take a painting of hers off the wall as they leave so that they can have a piece of her forever.

Sharon Cleaves
Resident, Unity Gardens

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