By Danny Yarnall
Carl Duzen — scientist, educator, artist, and friend of the Penn Memory Center — died on April 16 at the age of 83.
Carl first came to the Penn Memory Center (PMC) in 2013 when he and his wife Susan Jewett, took cognitive fitness class together after his diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) a year earlier. From that moment he was committed to handling his diagnosis with openness and transparency. Susan, and educator and artist herself, was surprised one morning to find Carl talking with their neighbors about it.
“Carl said very clearly to me after that diagnosis, ‘I just want to put one foot in front of the other,’” she said.
After that, the self-proclaimed “math-guy” became an “artist of undoing.” Looking for ways to keep his mind sharp, he developed a habit of pulling apart cathode-ray television sets. He kept neat piles of cut copper wire as an organizational strategy until Susan noticed the piles’ beauty and wanted to add a frame. As he tinkered in his garage, twisting and shaping those copper wires, the pair transformed obsolete electronics into works of art.
We first documented Carl’s work in 2017 for Making Sense of Alzheimer’s. His artwork was featured in an exhibition at the Main Line Art Center and later the Penn Memory Center. His work touched many beyond our PMC community, receiving attention from local and national news outlets.
Carl and Susan were also the subjects of the award-winning documentary, Moment to Moment, by independent filmmaker Mike Attie in partnership with Teya Sepinuck, founder and artistic director of Theater of Witness.
But beyond recognition, Carl set out to make a life of meaning, no matter his diagnosis. He wanted to show others how someone could still lead an engaging life while living with Alzheimer’s and pass on what he could through his art and his words as a volunteer with ARTZ Philadelphia. Carl’s twisting, shining sculptures stand as monuments to the capabilities and creativity that he and others like him possessed.
“This is a terrible disease…They call it a rough road,” Susan said addressing a crowd gathered for Carl’s exhibition at the Penn Memory Center. “But what no one ever says is that the disease leads you to meet people and institutions, to deepen friendships with neighbors and longtime friends. These are like golden moments along that road.”
“I never saw Carl without a beaming smile, especially when holding the hand of his beloved wife, Susan,” said Felicia Greenfield, PMC Executive Director. “Carl’s quiet, calm presence put those he met at ease, and his creativity in the face of his illness inspired many. Carl’s memory will go on forever in the hearts of those privileged to know him.”