George Kapeleris: Battling Parkinson’s through art at 83

With a unique manner of creativity, George Kapeleris, honoured the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption) by crafting an epitaph art piece, adorned with vibrant floral arrangements and intricate designs.

The 83-year-old Greek-Australian has been battling Parkinson’s disease for 17 years.

Art has become his haven, especially in the 14 years since he retired at 69.

“When he retired – three years into his Parkinson’s disease – he started to take up drawing, painting and doing things just to keep him occupied at home,” Kapeleri’s daughter, Lina Spagnol, told Neos Kosmos.

A “lifesaver”

She emphasised how her father’s involvement in art, acted as a “lifesaver” for him, allowing him to share his “beautiful pieces” with the world, especially with his three children – Lina, Vasiliki, and Panagiotis – as well as his five grandchildren.

Kapeleris refused to let his disease control his life.

“He’s a very strong man and he’s always battled it very humbly, never complaining,” added Lina.

George Kapeleris decorating his epitaph art piece with floral arrangements. Photo: Supplied

“A man of strong faith”

Being a “a man of strong faith,” he channels his spirituality into his art by creating paintings that capture religious themes, resembling iconographic depictions of Saints, Archangels, the Virgin Mary, and Christ.

The 83-year-old artist also creates religious symbols by crafting epitaphs and wooden crosses, especially during significant Christian festivals.

Many of his paintings are also inspired by nature’s beauty, as evidenced by the abundance of flowers and trees that grace his canvases and sheets of painting paper.

Lina explains that her father uses an array of materials for his crafts, including cardboard, wood, or frames.

A significant highlight of his life was his involvement in the Epitaph Procession on Good Friday, where he joined other devoted members in carrying the Epitaph of the North Balwyn church.

“Hence his love for making crafts of the Epitaph during these symbolic religious days,” adds Lina.

The Dormition of the Theotokos marks the name day celebration for his son Panagiotis and other family members, which inspires Kapeleris to craft epitaphs with great enthusiasm for this religious event.

George Kapeleris, honored the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption) by crafting an epitaph art piece. Photo: Supplied

A “bridge” of bonds

Outside his immediate family circle, he also takes pleasure in sharing his intricate creations with his doctors, caregivers and therapists who visit his home regularly to assist with the challenges posed by his condition.

“It’s his way of connecting and showing his love to everyone around him,” Lina explains, noting adding that many of his creations, he gives as gifts to his doctors and therapists along with handwritten messages, as a way of saying “thank you for everything you’ve done.”

“He may not eat, but a copy of Neos Kosmos newspaper is always in the house.”

According to his wife Georgia, Neos Kosmos has been an integral part of her husband’s life “51 years now.”

“He may not eat, but the newspaper is always in the house.”

Understanding how much Neos Kosmos means to their father, his children have established a special family tradition:

Every year on his birthday, they make sure a copy of the newspaper arrives as his special “birthday present.”

Being a “a man of strong faith,” he channels his spirituality into his art by creating paintings that capture religious themes, resembling iconographic depictions of Saints, Archangels, the Virgin Mary, and Christ. Photo: Supplied

Random events

For Greek immigrants, Australia served as a destination of hope for a better life.

However, George Kapeleris’s arrival in Australia in 1969 wasn’t the typical immigration journey that many experienced.

George Kapeleris, from Sparta, spent seven years working as a ship’s cook.

He arrived in Australia in 1969 when the ship he was working on, made a brief stop in Melbourne for an investigation related to a “suspicious” object found on board.

“They found something on board that needed to be examined… and that’s how he was forced to stay in Melbourne for about a month,” said his wife, Georgia, to Neos Kosmos.

Apart from sharing the same name, they also shared a life together, due to a series of “random” events.

Georgia’s brother offered accommodation to Kapeleri’s fellow villager, who then proposed that he stay and be with Georgia.

However, Kapeleris decided to return to Greece at that time, driven by the need to reunite with his mother. The loss of his father at the age of 7 had left a profound “void” in the family.

Painting by George Kapeleris in which St. George is depicted. Photo: Supplied

Life in Australia

Fate had more in store for the Greek artisan in Australia, as a year later, in May 1970, he bid a final farewell to Greece and boarded a plane to Melbourne, with the purpose of a rekindling his acquaintance with Georgia, who had invited him to meet her.

A month later, their love was sealed with the bonds of marriage.

In 1971, their family grew with the birth of their first daughter, Lina. Just 14 months later, their joy multiplied as their second daughter, Vasiliki, arrived, and seven years later, their family was complete with the addition of their first son, Panagiotis.

With the aim of establishing a life in Australia this time, Kapeleris found employment in a plastic manufacturing factory.

Later, he entered the construction industry, a move that seemed to align well with his interest in arts and crafts.

George Kapeleri’s paintings. Photo: Supplied

Nowadays, he relies almost entirely on the assistance and care he receives both from his caregivers and his family to carry out simple daily tasks.

Georgia ensures that her husband’s “artistic toolbox” is well-equipped with all the necessary materials so that he can engage in the “only things he’s got left” in his “disease-condemned” life.

“He often asks me to go to the stores to buy him pencils, markers, frames… He makes the crosses from wood and attaches beads using glue. He makes them quite beautiful,” explains Georgia.

As Georgia shares, although the disease may have impacted his body, Kapeleris’s spirit continues to shine through his art.

Crafts of crosses made by George Kapeleris. Photo: Supplied

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