For residents of Perley Health's long-term care home, birds have always brought colour to their world.
Seniors have crafted bird houses at the wood shop for several years to hang outside their windows, and observed different species stop to feed in the courtyard. During the pandemic, bird-watching became even more important for those locked in their rooms.
Art instructor Gillian King says it came as no surprise the art took on an avian theme when residents were asked to contribute to an exhibit about sources of strength.
"We started making work and very organically, birds started to show up," said King.
"We were like, why is that happening? We realized that birds are actually the animal that residents interact with the most here ... Even when we were on lockdown and it was harder to move around, we were still able to bird-watch."
About 50 residents participated in the program over the past year, painting, sculpting and creating works with ceramics, many of which are on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery's spring exhibit "Wingspan."
Joyce Tuepah, 82, sculpted a blue bird to contribute to the show, explaining "they've always been a favourite bird of mine. They're colourful, they're joyful, they're happy. They're singing a lot, and they're just nice to watch."
She says she kept busy during the pandemic watching bossy blackbirds chasing squirrels and chipmunks outside her window. For her, it was a comfort during darker times.
''I have been there and it's not a good feeling. You almost think you're the only one in the world with these kind of problems. But then, you wait for a while and you talk to yourself and say, 'no, I'm not alone. There's always someone worse off than you in any situation.'"
For 69-year-old Paul Louiseize, making art together has been a way to rebuild community.
"You were essentially separated ... You were in a room and that's it. You couldn't go out or do much ... you couldn't even go outside," he said.
"But here, we talk and work together and help each other out. Whenever there's a problem we try to put our heads together. It shows us that we're not alone in this place."
For King, those connections are almost as important as the works produced.
"There are a lot of really beautiful and rich conversations that came out of making works for this show," she said.
"We were talking about similarities that we have with birds and how that could relate to experiences during the pandemic ... whether we feel like we're flying free or we feel like we're nesting or we feel like we're trapped. There's a lot of really potent metaphors that were happening."
"Making work for this show brought out some really wonderful conversations and connections."
For Louiseize, who previously worked as a metal engraver, there's another lesson. That art is something that anyone, of any age, can do.
''[Art] has always been inside of everybody. Everybody has it. It's just you got to let it out. Let your little boy out or little girl out, you know?"
Wingspan is on display until May 22 at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Perley Health has scheduled visits for residents to see their works on display there over the coming weeks.