As Kate Soehner meanders through her ninth decade, she continues to paint and to teach painting. Could we expect any less from her? Kate has lived in Plantation Bay, a verdant gated community in Ormond Beach, Florida since 1988. She shares her lovely home, with a front sidewalk populated with flowers and numerous cactus, with her cats, Samantha and Gabriella. At the recent Art Show in the Plantation Bay community in March 2011, Kate participated along with more than twenty Plantation Bay friends and artists showing her art. She offered several recent paintings and may not admit she was pleasantly tired after the efforts to complete the new paintings for the show in a relatively short time, after having dealt with a few medical problems.
In the same room where the Art Show was conducted, Kate and her late husband Ken participated in the early social life of the Plantation Bay community back in the early 80’s. Ken would be found at the piano exploring jazz renditions of Ellington, Rodgers and Hart, and big band standards. Satin Doll, one of Duke Ellington’s iconic masterpieces, was one of Ken’s favorite songs. Ken probably could play a reasonable rendition of any song one could request.
Ken once learned how to play the Chopin Fantasy Impromptu as the result of a self imposed challenge on a cruise that he and Kate had taken. While tinkling at the piano on the cruise, the Chopin piece was requested and he did not know it. After returning home he proceeded to learn the rather long complex and musically repetitive piece. Ken would creatively interpret at his discretion the more than seven pages of music that contained repetitious sequences. Between drinks and socializing, no one was the wiser or would know the difference that Ken would repeat the difficult piece with improvised variations. If Chopin could repeat himself, then why shouldn't Ken repeat Chopin at his own creative discretion? Kate always smiles in her recollections of stories about Ken as the memories light up her eyes.
Kate has taught painting for more than twenty years at the adult education program in Palm Coast, Florida. When first asked to teach, she said, “I don’t know how to teach painting, but I will show people how to do it.” Whether called “teaching” or “showing,” Kate has passed on her painting knowledge and legacy to many. Under her tutelage many artists have gained a love of painting and learned the craft of painting. Kate has had a few medical challenges in the last few years or so. After each challenge when she has effectively healed, if not completely, she responds by packing up her car and driving off to the studio in the ocean hammocks area of Palm Coast and teaching an art class. A teaching Kate is a happy and fulfilled Kate.
Kate has been referred to as the “Cat Lady” with affection and endearment. She has been given this sobriquet, not because she is the latest costumed super heroine character from Marvel Comics, but to identify her as one who truly loves and cherishes cats. Look at her many paintings of cats, usually commissioned by people who cherish their cats as part of their family. It is not possible to overlook the unique personality and persona she gives to each cat painting, nor overlook the keen and passionate eye that has put them on canvas.
Kate’s two cats, Gabriella and Samantha, have been part of her life and part of her family for many years. To say she dotes and spoils and loves the cats would be a gross understatement. These two lively cats “people” her home as much as a cherished friend or family member would. They are part of the fabric of her life. With Samantha at her elbow and Gabriella at her foot and a glass of chilled lemonade in hand, Kate often has glimpses of a perfect day from her screened room looking out at the afternoon sun painting shadows across the flowers and bougainvillea and cactus.
Kate, as all artists do, continues the endless process and search of discovering the world over and over again. She facilitates the viewer of her art to broaden ones perception of the world. Kate’s work helps stifle the myopia of walking through life and looking, but not seeing. Artists are often young beyond their years, because they must hold on to their sense of the childish curiosity about the world. The kind of curiosity that makes children squander bunches of time rendering the world as they see it, without constraint and with pencil and crayon in hand. Kate still has the childish curiosity and continues taking introspective snapshots of the world with her paint brush. At eighty five, when will she every grow up! Sometimes a painting has that “wow” factor and makes one wonder why we have not seen a rainbowed sunsets or observed dew drenched flowers or examined a slumbering cat with as much passion as the artist. Kate will help you see the world more clearly, if you are a willful participant. Her tenth decade may turn out to be her best yet.
Years ago someone told Kate about a feral cat giving birth to five kittens behind the Plantation Bay clubhouse. Kate was able to capture all but one kitten and find a safe haven at the Humane Society. The fifth kitten, who she named Kitty Gray, was irresistible, but uncatchable for Kate. She fed Kitty Gray every day for six years, often at five thirty in the morning. In all that time this very solitary feral cat refused to let Kate touch him. Kate demonstrated her forbearance with their daily encounters, through the years and through family challenges and through occasional disappearances on the part of Kitty Gray. After the longest disappearance of about six months, Kitty Gray appeared one day and then never again. For the six month disappearance and the six months that followed Kate appeared at their rendezvous every day in anticipation and with disappointment, but never discouraged enough not to return the next day. The memory of Kitty Gray is painted on a canvas in the mind of Kate forever. The next time you need a story to demonstrate the value of commitment and dedication and loyalty and benevolence and devotion---consider the saga of Kate and Kitty Gray.
Kate has been enmeshed and involved with art all of her life. It has been a journey that has brought her through a variety of artistic endeavors. For Kate art is a life time process and is inseparable from the fabric of her being. She attended a variety of design classes in colleges and vocational training and corporate environments. Kate has air brushed sheets of silk with flowers and designs. She has designed custom wedding dresses. She taught herself to see beautifully designed and high fashion dresses and innovatively produce unique versions of the designs for herself and others. She has gone to Delancey Street in New York and bought random pierces of material and fabrics and improvised the designs of dresses, much like a sculptor would create art from “found” pieces of what humanity has no use for. She admits that in her younger years, at five foot nine, she was a clothes horse, and relishes the pleasant memory of riding that horse. If she saw it, she could make it, and innovate on it.
For many years, Kate became a sought after milliner in New York who designed unique hats and chapeaus when hats were in fashion. She could take random collections of materials and fashion a hat; or observe her female customers and custom design a hat to fit the individual. She designed and made literally hundreds of custom hats. Kate attended the prestigious Fashion Institute of New York taking courses in designing and cutting patterns for clothes. She designed unique theatrical clothes for performers. Kate is accomplished at drafting and at one time was employed by a company to design parts for electrical appliances. She was involved with designing and decorating rooms for special affairs and parties and events. It was a natural evolution for Kate to leverage her artistic experience and crafts to explore painting in a wide variety of mediums. May the exploration continue for many years!
When asked about her influences in art, Kate offered without hesitation the three people who most influenced her. She was influenced by John Singer Sargent, the famous American portraitist and landscapist, who produced several thousand paintings. Copying the masters has been a centuries old tradition in painting. Kate did what artists immemorial have done, namely copying one of Sargent’s paintings in 1982. Please see Item 18 in the collection, “Copy of Miss Helen Sears” painted by Sargent. Sargent could paint luminous skin colors, excruciating detailed clothing, and intense explorations of a face and what was behind it. Kate copied the master.
Kate’s was significantly influenced by Joe Bowler, a childhood friend, and a renowned master portrait artist who gained early fame as one of the foremost illustrators in the country. Unknown to most of us, we probably have all seen Joe Bowler’s illustrations in books and magazines by the thousands over the years. We can imagine there is some very private motivation and aspiration in Kate that drives her to fill the gap between her journey in art to arrive at the place where Sargent and Bowler reign. Art is a life long journey. God speed Kate.
When Kate and her husband located in Ormond Beach in the early 1980’s, she began taking art classes in Palm Coast from Pam Greisinger, a professor at Daytona State College, and an art instructor. Pam’s disciplined and laid back approach to teaching motivated Kate and over the years exposed her to the fine elements of the craft. Kate’s gave particular attention to the myopia of painting every detail with small brushes. That is, until Pam’s encouraging admonition to “Get rid to the small brushes and start using the biggest brush you can,” which broke Kate’s artistic gridlock to deal with the totality of the painting. After many years of mentoring in the classroom, Pam advised Kate several times, “You don’t need me any more. Go find your own way.”
Painting can be a lonely self indulgence. Many famous artists have been known to be the most aggressive collectors of their own work. At his death, Pablo Picasso had the finest and largest collection of Picassos in the world. On the other extreme, Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime, and it was only through the good graces and common sense of his sister- in- law that we enjoy his genius today because she saved all of his paintings.
Recently a project was commenced to gather all of Kate’s paintings that are in her possession or accessible, and to create a web site that family and friends can enjoy. So now everyone is invited to browse and snoop and explore Kate’s paintings. Look at the thumbnails of the many paintings and see the eclectic variety of mediums and subjects. Click on any thumbnail and see a larger version of the painting and consider the interesting colors. Kate is an excellent colorist and still speaks of the endless mystery and life long quest of exploring and understanding the myriad nature and aspects of color. The chronology of the paintings is random. Her cats and her tigers and her portraits will be appreciated no less or more if gathered by topic or if we pursue Kate’s work chronologically by year. Life is random and so is the presentation of Kate’s art.
We all journey through life with some plans and some happenstance and leave footprints of memories and relationships and accomplishments as our heirlooms. Some of Kate’s life long footprints are her paintings. This website is an attempt to track Kate’s footprints in the variety of paintings she has bathed in colors using pastels, oils, watercolors, acrylics, graphite sketches, charcoal, and even materials, such as silk. Edward Hopper, the painter of iconic street scenes and haunting portraits, was quoted as saying “If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” Kate has found a reason to paint and she is articulate and verbose with her brush strokes in speaking to us. If only one painting in this collection stirs emotions, awakens a memory, empowers the eyes to see some aspect of the world more clearly----then let the viewer savor the emotion and enjoy the moment. Enjoy your journey in exploring Kate’s art.
Bless all artists and hopefully they will accept our gratitude for helping us to see the world more clearly. Thank you Kate.
Richard Nannariello March 7, 2011