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Creative Agers Throughout History

Category: Ad Summa: Museums and Creative Aging
The interior view of a light-filled dome with intricately painted designs arcing up it in columns.
The dome of St. Peter's Basilica, designed by Michelangelo at 88. Photo credit: HarshLight on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

I’ve recommended Gene D. Cohen’s book The Creative Age any number of times in these Ad Summa blogs, and one of the elements that makes the book so memorable is the continuing list in the margins of significant cultural contributions older people have made to their societies over time. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Imogen Cunningham, famous American photographer, still taught at the Art Institute of San Francisco at age 90.

An antique camera on display in a museum.
A Rolleiflex camera owned by Imogen Cunningham, on display at the Oakland Museum of California. Photo by Jim Heaphy. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Archibald MacLeish won the Pulitzer for drama at 67.

A Broadway playbill with the letters "JB" in white text on a black background.
The playbill for Archibald MacLeish’s Pulitzer-winning play J.B.

Mahatma Gandhi was 77 when he completed negotiations to grant India independence from Britain.

A black-and-white photograph of Gandhi posed with English royalty.
Gandhi with Lord and Lady Mountbatten in 1947.

Michelangelo designed the dome of St. Peters at 88.

The interior view of a light-filled dome with intricately painted designs arcing up it in columns.
Looking up at the dome in St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo credit: HarshLight on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Albert Schweitzer received the Nobel Prize at 77.

Black-and-white portrait photograph of a man in a tuxedo, with his signature underneath.
Albert Schweitzer in his official Nobel portrait, 1953.

Albert Einstein, at 74, was still “groping” with the meaning of relativity.

A black-and-white head-and-shoulders portrait of Albert Einstein in old age.
Albert Einstein circa 1945

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was, at 91, reading Plato. “Why?” asked FDR. “To improve my mind, Mr. President,” was his response.

A black-and-white portrait of Oliver Wendell Holmes standing in a library and holding a book.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes circa 1924.

Agatha Christie wrote until she was 86.

A black-and-white head-and-shoulders portrait of Agatha Christie in old age.
Agatha Christie in the 1970s.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum at 91.

Exterior shot of the spiral-shaped facade of the Guggenheim museum in New York.
Facade of the Guggenheim Museum. Photo credit: Upstateherd on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science Monitor at 87.

An exterior of an office building labeled with the name of the Christian Science Monitor
Offices of the Christian Science Monitor in Boston. Photo credit: Sarah Nichols on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Geronimo dictated his biography at 77.

Black-and-white bust photograph of Geronimo.
Geronimo in 1898

Sir Isaac Newton published his second edition of Principia at 84.

An open copy of an antique book on display, with handwritten annotations visible.
Newton’s Annotated copy of his Principia Mathematica. Photo credit: BillThom on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Katharine Graham, retired publisher of the Washington Post, wrote her first book at 79.

Book cover with a portrait of Katherine Graham and the title "Personal History."
The cover of Katherine Graham’s book Personal History.

I.M. Pei designed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at 78.

Facade of a modernist museum building at dusk.
The facade of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, designed by I.M. Pei. Photo credit: Jason Pratt on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Clara Barton continued as head of the American Red Cross until the age of 83.

Black-and-white bust portrait of Clara Barton
Clara Barton circa 1902, photographed while attending the Seventh International Red Cross Conference.

Walt Disney saw his second Disney theme park, Disney World, constructed at age 65.

Photo of the castle and other buildings in Disney World.
Disney World. Photo credit: Richard Stephenson on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Robert Frost delivered “The Gift Outright” at President Kennedy’s Inauguration at age 87.

These, and many others cited in Cohen’s work, are not only inspirational examples of the contributions of older adults throughout history, but are also helpful encouragements to those of us with a passionate interest in creative aging.

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Mark Your Calendars: The American Alliance of Museums is holding a national convening on museums and creative aging at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from November 5-6, 2020.

Our special issue of AAM’s bi-monthly Museum magazine is coming October 2020.

Also, we are seeking guest bloggers who would like to share their thoughts and experiences in creative aging efforts. Just let me know if you have something you would like to contribute. It could be anything relevant: an upcoming conference, a program you have developed, a perspective you would like to share, etc. We are greatly enjoying the conversations these blogs are engendering!

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