Around Town

Artist finds inspiration in everyday settings

WESTFIELD-Marcia Kahn vividly recalls the moment in junior high school when a teacher’s lecture changed the way she visualized art.

“When I was about 10 we had an art class on how to balance a picture,” said Kahn, who lived in Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., in her early years. “Our art teacher also taught us how to understand colors and what colors meant.”

Westfield resident Marcia Kahn will be the featured artist in October at the Jasper Rand Art Museum. (Submitted photo)

From that inspirational moment on, Kahn knew she would pursue a career in the art field.

Kahn, who will be celebrating her 97th birthday on Oct. 5, is exhibiting a “mixed bag of artwork” from Oct. 3-29 at the Westfield Athenaeum’s Jasper Rand Art Museum. A reception for the artist, open to the public, is slated Oct. 5 from 2 – 4 p.m. 

“My parents encouraged me to explore art when I was young,” said Kahn, adding she would copy pictures from magazines since they were “full of design” techniques. 

While Kahn said her parents were supportive of her artistic abilities, they also insisted her major in college would ensure a job when she graduated.

“I majored in education at Hunter College, with a minor in art and design,” said Kahn, who graduated in 1942. “There was a very small number of women at Hunter College at the time and most of the ladies were interested in teaching jobs. It was the Depression and we were happy to have any jobs.”

Marcia Kahn has been fascinated with found objects and merry-go-rounds. This Unicorn-Go-Round combines those two loves into one colorful piece of art. (Submitted photo)

While Kahn never taught in a public or private school, she did follow her dream of design – which led her to the commercial art world. Over the years she held positions as a mechanical draftswoman, a textile designer, a sketch artist for costume jewelry, and an embroidery designer. 

On her blogpost titled Marcia Kahn – Dreamcatcher, she details how she studied painting with Alton Tobey, Charles Kingham and Richard Miller, and sculpture with Carla Rae Johnson and Helen Beling. In addition, she notes she studied plastics with George Adamy.

After Kahn and her husband Elliot raised three children, George, Paul and Linda, she felt compelled to return to the art world – but with a new twist. 

“I worked in sales for Tiffany’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Astro Minerals,” said Kahn, noting that during those years she was also taking lessons in jewelry making. In time she started a jewelry-making school with Joan Weiskopf in Larchmont, N.Y., which flourished for 25 years.

“When I decided to move to Westfield I sold my house and business to be closer to my daughter,” said Kahn, noting that was 16 years ago.

While Kahn’s exhibition will showcase her love of the circus, she will also display some of her Nautilus shell works of art, as well as other assemblages.

In the 1600’s, many European sculptors created elaborate bases for the display of Nautilus shells. Marcia Kahn of Westfield will be displaying a few of her works in this area at the Jasper Rand Art Museum. (Submitted photo)

“After my husband died, I needed cheering up,” said Kahn, noting an art project in a sculpture class was a doorway into the circus realm. “I started going to circuses, watching carousels, and was amused by the professional people. The circus became a big part of my life and I made circuses in the sculpture classes.”

Kahn said the exhibition will showcase a variety of art mediums she has experimented with over the years – from metal work to portraits of Shriner clowns.

“People think art is something separate from their world,” said Kahn. “I like art in business. The shirt you wore today was designed by an artist, as well as the car you drove. Jobs by artists touch all of us.”

While Kahn has touched the lives of many in her designs and her mixed media art pieces over the decades – perhaps her lasting artistic legacy lies with her children.

“My mother’s love of art had a big influence on my life,” said Paul Kahn of Newbury, Mass. “I grew up visiting the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York with her. Images of paintings were on the walls of our home and the hallways of our public school in New Rochelle. I learned to love these images and understand how special it was to visit these places where fine art is on display for the public.”

George Kahn, of Culver City, Calif., shared a similar sentiment.

“For me, Mom was always supportive and allowed me to pursue my interest in music,” he said. “The biggest lesson I learned from her is to always create, no matter what.”

Linda (Kahn) Pickreign, of Westfield, said her mother’s love of art influenced her at a young age.

“My life as a growing child in the greater metropolitan area of New York City involved numerous visits and educational programs around the various museums and numerous art galleries that presented itself every time we would go into Manhattan or any of the other city boroughs,” said Pickreign. “My life took a path as an educator that involved working with products that bring great joy and color and wonderful presentation to many youths of the public school system, as well as sharing those learned lessons with many adults in the business world. My mother would have me and the rest of my family really ‘look at’ the environment that was all around us from the moment we were able to gaze out at our surroundings.”

For Kahn, her hope with the exhibition is that those who attend will realize “you can have a good time when you are old and that art is part of everyone’s life.”

For more information on the exhibition, visit or call (413) 568-7833. Museum hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

On a related note, Marie Flahive, a member of the gallery committee, encourages area residents to submit a proposal for an exhibition.

“Persons interested in showing their work must fill out an application form which provides the Athenaeum with information about the artist’s background, experience, and the content of their proposed show, including samples of their work,” said Flahive, adding, committee members who have artistic backgrounds or interests on the professional level, then review all applications and select artists for specific months. 

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