Here’s how Ed Garcia describes how he became a sculptor: He started by doodling in 3-D. He worked as a therapist back then and while he chatted with his clients, he’d take paper clips and twist them into interesting little shapes.
“I used to doodle, but not with a pencil,” he said one recent morning. “I used to doodle by bending paper clips. As a joke, one of my clients sent me a truck with 20-foot bars of rebar for me to bend.”
Garcia took the challenge. He learned to weld and bend big bars of metal. Then, once he retired, he wanted something creative to do, so he turned his attention to sculpture. In a studio at his home in the Pine Hills neighborhood in Atlanta, he’d transform metal into abstract designs fit for a tabletop or a garden.
Before that, he’d made little art. “I’m not into challenges to see if I can be successful in achieving something, but rather to experience the pleasure of trying something different,” he said.
Examples of his work now decorate the spacious 14th-floor Buckhead condo he and his wife and their two cats share. Because of that move last year, the 87-year-old Garcia said he’s no longer making sculptures. He had to give up his studio and also said he can no longer manhandle the metal he once did. “It was time to do something else,” he said.
Now he’s covering the walls of his condo with photographs he’s taken during travels to places such as Vietnam, China, South Africa and other far-parts of the world.
It’s just another change for a man who must be used to them. He said he grew up in the New York neighborhood known as Spanish Harlem, a first-generation American. His parents both were immigrants—his father from Mexico, his mother from Venezuela.
Garcia dropped out of high school and ended up in the U.S. Army, where he trained as a mechanic and earned his high-school-equivalency diploma. After the Army, he attended New York University. In 1968, he started studying to be a therapist. By 1977, he’d tired of New York—“It was time to do something else,” he said.—and decided to move to Atlanta to practice. He retired, he said, “sometime around 1989.”
In retirement, he helms discussion groups for seniors who want to face big questions about their lives. They talk of ethics and morality, the pursuit of happiness, love, faith, the lessons one learns as one grows older, even gossip. His workshops gather a couple of times a month with groups at various assisted living centers, he said.
“When I first start teaching at a different place, my first question is, ‘Would you choose to remember all your past experiences and not have new ones, or would you choose to have new experiences and not remember the old ones?’” he said.
David Brooks, director of resident services at St. Anne’s Terrace, a not-for-profit senior living center in Buckhead affiliated with St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, said Garcia has been leading a discussion group there since last October.
It has proved popular, Brooks said. It started with about 10 participants and grown to 25 or 30 from the center’s 100 residents. They discuss a wide variety of topics. “He asks a lot of questions,” Brooks said.
Participants tell Brooks they enjoy taking part. “Being together, there’s a closeness,” Brooks said. “Sometimes people in our community can get withdrawn. But they get more engaged. He gets the ball rolling.”
Garcia says he’s led men-only discussion groups that discuss intimacy. This spring, he and Dr. Irma Starr planned to jointly teach a co-ed class on the topic as part of Emory University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
The class, titled “Challenges as we age: intimacy, sensuality and sex,” promised to “explore the generational and gender attitudes learned during our adolescent years and how these learned attitudes and values influence our needs and desires toward intimacy as we age,” according to the course catalog.
“This is not a how-to class,” he said, smiling at the notion. “It is a class to understand the myths we face as we age—like, ‘You’re too old to do this.’ [But] we feel the desire to touch and be touched. We want the intimacy.”
Garcia thinks having both men and women in the class will allow each to better understand the other. “It’s going to be a very interesting challenge,” he said. And he likes challenges.
Three questions for Ed Garcia
Who are your heroes?
I think all of us have a hero within us. It lies dormant until a set of circumstances allows our heroism to emerge. I also believe that all of us have been heroes at one time or another, not by what we have done, but rather by what we have not done.
How can seniors maintain their creativity as they age?
SEE, don’t just look. Use all of your senses to explore. A spoon is used for you to slurp your soup. What’s it made of? How did first come to be used? In what different ways can or is it being used? Is it called by different names?
Break established patterns. Don’t keep mourning about what you cannot any longer do, but rather focus on what you can do. To hell with success, now is the time for fulfillment. If your limited in what you can do, enjoy the pleasure of your imagination. EXPLORE, EXPLORE, EXPLORE!
What can seniors learn from discussions about intimacy?
They can learn that it is a universal human need from the day we are born to the day we die. It signals that we are not alone, but that we belong, and are wanted. It makes us part of the human race.
The only thing that prevents us from allowing ourselves to be intimate is fear. With some, it is the fear of the pain they might experience if they were not to receive it, so it is better not to allow themselves to experience it…… how ironic.