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Bernice Paul with painting
Bernice sits next to one of her paintings at the Ralston House.
By Nora Laberee 
Scheie Vision Summer 2019

102-year-old Bernice Paul has been drawing and painting her entire life. Her passion for art began as a young girl in Moscow, and after emigrating with her family to the United States in the 1930s, she continued to create art. After settling in Philadelphia, she studied at numerous prestigious art schools and museums, including the Barnes Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Fleisher Art Memorial, and the Philadelphia College of Art. Now, her artwork has found a new home at the Ralston House, the headquarters of Penn Medicine’s Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation. 

“I have always loved painting, going out with a couple of friends in the summertime, painting flowers and landscapes,” Bernice said. However, Bernice now faces a new obstacle to her painting; she suffers from macular degeneration, an eye condition that causes retinal deterioration and vision loss. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States in individuals over 65 years old. This diagnosis can make everyday tasks like reading and writing difficult to complete. While her condition makes painting more challenging, Bernice has not let it stop her from pursuing her passion. “My eyes are going now, but I still paint,” she said. “There is a joy in painting, I love it.”   

Ranjoo Prasad, OD, who leads the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the Ralston House and treats Bernice, knew her art was special as soon as she saw it. Bernice is also a patient of Albert Maguire, MD, at the Scheie Eye Institute. Continuing to paint while facing vision loss was of major importance to Bernice.

“When I first met Ms. Paul, we discussed how her eyesight had affected her ability as an artist,” Dr. Prasad said. “I saw her art on her website, and thought her work was absolutely beautiful.” 

About the same time, the waiting area at the Ralston House was set to be updated.  “I thought it would be an honor to show her work for others to appreciate and admire, perhaps even inspire those who come to the office, as I had been,” said Dr. Prasad. 

For Bernice, painting is a simple pleasure she has enjoyed with friends all of her life.   “I rarely paint alone; I most enjoy painting with friends,” she said. Bernice found a group of friends to paint with by going to art studios in Philadelphia with her daughter. "I found places where I could paint, where I could take my daughter to painting classes, and there she and I found friends to paint together with, in different classes.” 

Her passion has also earned her many awards, including a gold medal from the Philadelphia Sketch Club, gold and silver medals from the Plastic Club, first prizes at the Upper Merion Cultural Center, and Best in Show at the Main Line Center of the Arts. 

She has also exhibited her art at Rosemont College, Woodmere Art Museum, Villanova University, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the Philadelphia Art Museum. Most recently, four of her landscape panels were installed as a mural at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

Now, four of Bernice’s still life paintings hang in the Ralston House, where patients and guests can admire her lovely work, and read her inspiring story. 

For Bernice, the enjoyment and excitement she gets from art are enough to keep her painting through macular degeneration and anything else that comes her way. We wish Bernice the very best as she continues to find happiness and bring joy to others through her work. 

Are you a patient interested in telling your story? If so, call 215-662-9892 or email kristen.mulvihill@pennmedicine.upenn.edu. We would love to hear from you! 

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