OAKLAND -- With 83 years of knitting experience, 93-year-old Charlotte Lichterman can knit pretty much anything: sweaters, scarves, hats, stockings, no problem, but she never expected to use her talents for graffiti. That is, until Elisa Reutinger showed her a YouTube video.
Reutinger, the activities director at The Point at Rockridge assisted living center, was looking for an exciting activity for the residents, and decided that a covert "yarnbombing" operation would brighten the holidays.
"Instead of a lot of communities that keep more within," Reutinger said. "I looked at this project as a way we were connecting with our community... we were looking at what everyone was doing, and saw the graffiti knitting and said, 'Well, let's do that, let's be in on it.'"
The knitting group of six to 10 ladies, headed with enthusiasm by Brooklyn native Lichterman, planned and knitted about 27 pieces for their installation, but hit an unexpected snag when it came time to decorate.
"It wasn't cold enough," Reutinger said. "And we like, 'Come on, we've got to get them out there' We didn't want to tell anyone ... we didn't want to tell management. It was supposed to be a surprise.
"And it was," Lichterman said.
When temperatures finally dropped in December and with the help of student volunteers from Bishop O'Dowd High School, the group unveiled their secret by stitching colorful swatches of hand-knit yarn on the railings leading up to the entrance of the residence. Even the statues in the fountain, a little iron boy and girl, got outfitted with hat and scarf. "(The students) helped a lot because it was back breaking work," Reutinger said.
The group also crocheted more than 120 flower ornaments to hang on every resident's door. Lichterman still sees the flowers, some now pinned to sweaters or affixed to walkers, all around the center.
"They've really kept them," she said. The entrance swathed in brightly colored yarn made such an impact that residents, staff and visitors were talking about it.
According to Wikipedia, the graffiti knitting movement began in Houstan, Texas in 2005, and the first guerilla knitters were a collective called Knitta Please (or just Knitta, for those in the know). The first documented yarnbomb was a simple doornob cosy. Now entire street lamp posts, public monuments and fire hydrants across the world get knitted up as a form of removable street art.
Graffiti knitting, although perhaps the most subversive, is only the beginning at The Point at Rockridge. As her title suggests, Reutinger excels at organizing activities. A calendar posted in one of the many communal rooms is full of things to do. Just one Wednesday offers multiple movie showings, a Holy Communion, a talk about the history of rock and roll, a word game hour, and a "Wizard of Oz" sing-along and pizza party.
"This afternoon, I'm doing the history of rock and roll," Reutinger said. "Shirley told me last week, 'Can we do it in the other room, there's more room to dance.'"
"Oh well, good for her," Lichterman laughed.
Lichterman, whose two sons also live in the Bay Area, said that all the events help alleviate feelings of isolation as people age and often can't leave the assisted living center regularly.
"With all the activities going on, you really don't feel confined," she said. "It makes a tremendous difference. And they have to be activities that are interesting, not just 'something to do'."
"We have a very good activities director," Litcherman added.
"I paid her to say that," said Reutinger, with a wink.