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Art Intended to Make the End of Life Beautiful

The New York Times
December 31, 2010

For most of his mother’s life, Tobi Kahn would make a present on each of her birthdays. The gifts began during his childhood as hand-drawn cards, more tender than precocious. As he grew into a formally trained and then a critically acclaimed artist, he made her a pocketbook one year, a desk set another, photographs worthy of museum exhibition.

Then, in the early summer of 2004, Ellen Schapiro Kahn lay in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, dying at 75 of pancreatic cancer that had been diagnosed barely a month before. It was uncertain she would survive even long enough to be moved into a hospice near her home.

A woman of elegant taste and fierce will, Mrs. Kahn was especially bedeviled by the scent of the place. Something in her treatment, perhaps the chemotherapy drugs, made every smell intolerably harsh. She had always adored flowers, and her son thought to bring her bouquets, but now she could not bear them.

So, Tobi Kahn gathered one final present, a collection of his paintings of flowers, chrysanthemums and buttercups rendered in curling, lapping lines of white, blue and green, muted as pastels. He hung them in the hospital room, around what would be her deathbed, so that sense-memory could fill her nostrils with ambrosia.

Out of that private, personal display for his mother, Mr. Kahn has built a body of work that aspires to bring solace, comfort, a kind of sublimity, to the end of life.

Read the full article in The New York Times

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