The Art of Aging Gracefully

Nonagenarian Marcy Von Kohorn says that painting is in her soul

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Marcy Von Kohorn's painting studio is a bright spot on the screened in porch of her home in The Moorings.
Marcy Von Kohorn’s painting studio is a bright spot on the screened in porch of her home in The Moorings.

Marcy Von Kohorn celebrates the start of every day with a smile on her face and a paintbrush in her hand, eager to spend time in her light-filled studio capturing images of flowers and gardens with meandering pathways. Nature is and always has been her inspiration.

Diana Kan, Von Kohorn’s art teacher, started off each class with calligraphy and painting beautiful flowers
Diana Kan, Von Kohorn’s art teacher, started off each class with calligraphy and painting beautiful flowers.

If ever there were a poster child for the saying “Attitude predicts altitude,” Von Kohorn is it. At age 96, she’s a shining example of what others half her age aspire to.

Early in 2022, Von Kohorn had a one-woman art show at which she was greeted and feted by appreciative admirers. Her paintings can be seen brightening walls throughout the condominium building she and her late husband, Henry, decided to call home 20 years ago. It’s only natural that one of those paintings welcomes those who arrive at her front door.

“Everyone here calls me the resident artist,” Von Kohorn says, eyes sparkling. “I don’t always know what I’m going to paint; it just happens. Sometimes I become inspired by something like a flower or something I see. Sometimes I just feel the need to paint because of the joy it gives me. Painting is in my soul.”

Von Kohorn completed Trees in 12 days by painting one tree per day
Von Kohorn completed Trees in 12 days by painting one tree per day.

While the majority of Von Kohorn’s paintings are replete with blossoms, one of her latest features a row of birch trees in a misty forest. “I did one tree a day; they were hard to do,” she admits, adding cheerfully, “I’m really happy the way it turned out.”

The optimist nonagenarian credits her art teacher for sparking her inner creativity. “Her name was Miss Kan. She was a tiny Chinese woman who would always begin each class by writing calligraphy on a large piece of rice paper. Then she would paint a beautiful flower. We were to practice what she did, and although we copied her work, she always encouraged us to develop our own style.”

Magic Mountain is a scene that Von Kohorn says “painted itself” in about 30 minutes; she describes the experience as “amazing.
Magic Mountain is a scene that Von Kohorn says “painted itself” in about 30 minutes; she describes the experience as “amazing.”

Von Kohorn’s style evolved while she and Henry were living in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her first “studio” was the laundry room. “I started painting on the washing machine and dryer before moving to the guest bedroom,” she muses. “I stand when I paint on a flat surface that is about waist high. I painted whenever I had time, and Henry encouraged me.”

This is where Von Kohorn goes back in time and reminisces about how she and her second husband met. “Henry was a blind date. I was to meet his plane, and he didn’t know what I looked like, so I told him I’d be wearing a yellow ribbon. It was love at first sight. I had two sons, Henry had three, and together we had number six, Craig, who is a Realtor with Alex MacWilliam Real Estate. Those were busy years.”

Flying South is one of hundreds of paintings Von Kohorn has created
Flying South is one of hundreds of paintings Von Kohorn has created.

They were made even busier when, in 1979, Chase Manhattan Bank invited Henry to teach a class on international business to its employees in Cairo. His company, Von Kohorn International, had built a textile plant in the Egyptian capital, and he had formed many friendships there. It was through one of those friends that Von Kohorn exhibited her paintings at a joint show with a well-known Egyptian artist. After returning to Greenwich, she continued exhibiting in shows throughout the state.

Fate’s Palette, published in 2019, is Von Kohorn’s autobiography of her art and love for her family
Fate’s Palette, published in 2019, is Von Kohorn’s autobiography of her art and love for her family.

Vero Beach came into the picture thanks to Kan, who received an invitation from the director of the Elliott Museum in Stuart to exhibit her students’ artwork. A newspaper reporter covering the event singled out Von Kohorn’s painting Sunny Forsythias with a glowing review that led to her being invited to have a one-woman show at the museum.

As luck would have it, a friend who was renting a condominium at The Moorings had seen the show and invited the Von Kohorns to come for a visit. Henry, a nationally ranked tennis player who never went anywhere without his racket, played in a round-robin tournament. He had the time of his life and told his wife they were going to move to Vero Beach.

Von Kohorn created the small painting Roses in midsummer
Von Kohorn created the small painting Roses in midsummer.

That was 1987, and the artist has never looked back. She became involved in the local art community, painting prolifically and exhibiting her work on the Treasure Coast and in Palm Beach.

When the Mental Health Association in Indian River County launched Turtle Trax, a hugely successful fundraising campaign, in 2005, Von Kohorn signed on to paint one of the 6-foot-tall fiberglass molds. Setting up a studio in a nearby garage, she got to work.

“I used Chinese brushwork to create hibiscus flowers and surfboards, and I called her Florida Flo. She’s at the VNA Hospice House, where I volunteered for seven years before the pandemic, welcoming visitors and showing them around. It’s such a special place and I am so happy Flo is there spreading happiness every day.”

Von Kohorn is a designer of one of the Mental Health Association’s 2005 Turtle Trax sculptures. Florida Flo greets visitors to VNA Hospice House in Vero Beach
Von Kohorn is a designer of one of the Mental Health Association’s 2005 Turtle Trax sculptures. Florida Flo greets visitors to VNA Hospice House in Vero Beach.

After her husband passed away in 2006, Von Kohorn determined to keep going, continuing to paint and exhibit her art at local galleries.

Von Kohorn is a designer of one of the Mental Health Association’s 2005 Turtle Trax sculptures. Florida Flo greets visitors to VNA Hospice House in Vero Beach 1Three years ago, she added to her list of accomplishments by publishing Fate’s Palette, a collection of treasured memories. Dedicated to Henry, it’s a tale of love, art, and a life well lived.

“I have a habit of keeping some kind of a diary, of writing down something that happens in my life. It’s like telling a friend because you feel the need to talk about it. So I gathered all those old diaries, sat down at the computer one day, and decided to write my story.”

Just like that, keyboard keys clicked, words danced along the pages, and an entertaining autobiography was born and published.

Von Kohorn finds joy in family and in her painting
Von Kohorn finds joy in family and in her painting.

On the back cover, Von Kohorn wrote these words: “My journey has been a long and winding road with many hills and valleys and also many bumps along the way. Through it all, it has been fueled by the energy of my love and marriage and the joy of my six sons—those born from my body and those born in my heart. It’s a family history. It’s a love story. I have so much to be happy for.”

When asked if she has advice, some inspiration to share, Von Kohorn doesn’t hesitate. With a smile she says, “Accept your life as it is in every way, and be grateful. I think happiness is inside you; it doesn’t matter what your life was, accept what it is now. I believe that we do not choose our journey in life, but each of us travels an unknown path, even to the end. If there is one legacy I have left, it is one of love— to give and to receive. There is no greater gift.”

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