Chartwell Grenadier resident artist creates beauty from adversity

Maria Styranka knows all about resilience. The dynamic 99-year-old resident of Chartwell Grenadier escaped Communism in her native Ukraine at the end of the Second World War, undertaking an arduous global journey that eventually led her and her family to Toronto. Learning English and working as a hotel maid at first, Maria fulfilled her dream of becoming a professional artist, acclaimed throughout Canada and Europe, her work exhibited in Ukraine’s National Museum of Art.

Painting by Chartwell Resident

With the encouragement and support of Chartwell Grenadier staff, Maria recently submitted one of her paintings, “Chernobyl’s Babushka,” to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) “Portraits of Resilience” online exhibition. Inspired by the pandemic, the gallery sent out an open call to artists, requesting works showcasing resilience in everyday lives.

Chartwell Grenadier’s Food & Beverage Manager, Bob Mavrikkou, heard about the exhibition, knowing that his residence has an active arts community and programs. He spoke to Lifestyle Program Manager Elena Yeryomenko, who immediately thought of Maria. Elena, who started as a student at Chartwell in 2008, had supported Maria to begin teaching art classes and to assist with “Artful Aging,” an exclusive Chartwell program that provides residents with an instructional template, theme and the tools to create their own artistic masterpieces.

Painting by Chartwell Resident

“In 2019 we held an art show for Maria at Grenadier, showcasing many of her works,” Elena says. “It was a lovely party for the residents and families and really showed how involved and accomplished Maria is.”

Maria painted “Chernobyl’s Babushka” in 1996 to mark the tenth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and to honour the resilience of the Ukrainian babushkas (grandmothers), who, despite the massive threat to their health, remained in their homes in the exclusion zone.

“This month [April 2021] marks the 35th anniversary of the disaster in Chernobyl,” said Maria in a recent story published in the AGO newsletter, explaining why she submitted the work now. “This painting is my tribute to those women who refused to leave after the disaster. Some still remain.”

Maria loves painting older people. “They have something special inside that comes out in a painting,” she says. Although she enjoys painting landscapes and flowers, using water colours, acrylic, oils, tempera and chalk, she especially loves portrait work. “I give something,” she says, “but I get something back in return.”

Maria’s creative expression isn’t limited to her art. She also enjoys dancing, one of many activities offered at Chartwell Grenadier. The residence has an active residents’ council, offering activities that empower residents not just to participate, but to create and lead their own programs. One resident led a music salon, Elena says, while another started a club to read to those with vision problems.

Maria, who has lived all over the world, including New York and Paris, has called Chartwell Grenadier home since 2015. She loves both the creative spirit and the people. “We are a close-knit family,” she says. “All of the people here are beautiful.”