Marie Koehler (Vandergraaf)
Obituary for Marie Koehler (Vandergraaf)
Marie passed away on April 21, 2020 at the age of 80.
She is survived by her daughter Julia (Randy), grandchildren Nate and Taylor, step-grandchildren Ryan and Ashley, Co-grandmother Cheryl, brother Richard, Sister-in-law Jeanne, niece Zoe, nephew Ben (Charlotta), and her many dear friends who became her family.
Born in Manchester, New Hampshire, Marie was the oldest of four children. She attended Tufts University in Boston, and immigrated to Montreal in 1962 where she met her husband Hans Vandergraaf. Moving from downtown Montreal to New Ross Nova Scotia in 1975, Marie went from a big city, gallery going artist to rural farmer, and new mother overnight. She grew acres of organic fruits and vegetable, raised free range animals, chopped wood and shovelled snow. She made friends and embedded herself in a community so different from the one she came from.
Marie was a pioneer in many ways. She was an advocate of organic whole foods and green vegetables long before it was in fashion. She tirelessly researched health and alternative healing, especially in an effort to heal, and better herself. She was a wonderful cook and food was a huge focus in her life.
She was a gifted gardener whose urban wild space was well known in her Dartmouth neighbourhood. She was an active member in this community as head of the Harbourview Neighbourhood Association for many years and was a volunteer and supporter of the NDP.
Marie was a voracious reader and often had three books on the go at a time. She was a regular at both the Dartmouth and Halifax libraries. She was also an avid listener of the CBC, the soundtrack to much of her life. At 80, she was still an intellectual who loved stimulating discussion about a wide range of topics.
She found a spiritual home in Art of Living 20 years ago, and loved going to Kriya and Satsangs with her many friends. She took joy in meditating, chanting and dancing with this group.
As a professional artist, Marie experimented with a variety of media. Her work evolved through harsh black and white ink drawings in the early 1960’s, beautiful flowery oil paintings in the 70’s, watercolours of life on the farm, environmental and political statements in painting as she protested uranium mining and other environmental issues. In 1986 Marie moved to Dartmouth as a single mother and bravely went back to school at NSCAD at the age of 47, attaining her BFA in 1988. She found another community there, and began printmaking, and later sculpting with paper. In the early 90’s she became a video artist and learned about cameras, filming, and post-production.
Much of her artwork focused on feminist, environmental and community issues as well as advocacy for people with disabilities, marginalized people, and social justice in general. Her artwork can be found in the Canada Council Art Bank, NS Art Bank, AGNS, MSVU Gallery, Acadia University Gallery, and in private collections.
In the 2000’s she developed an interest in comics, and created “Superma!”. Her cartoon alter ego was a superhero activist, in the form of an older bespectacled woman. These comics were featured in Halifax publication Street Feat, and can be seen on her website: https://supermacomicstrip.wordpress.com
She was a teacher and firmly believed that everyone could make art. She taught children and adults in New Ross, and throughout NS. At NSCAD she taught continuing education classes to adults and teens.
In later life, Marie enjoyed a new role as a face painter for children and volunteered for events like Halifax Pride. The city was made more beautiful by her window paintings and murals.
Marie was involved with CARFAC, CFAT, AGNS, The Writers Federation of NS, VANS, AFCOOP, Nova Scotia Arts Council, and Canada Council. She also volunteered with the Ecology Action Centre. One of her last projects was to create an old growth forest installation at the centre for Nocturne.
Marie loved her adopted home of Nova Scotia, her view of the harbour for the last 34 years, and especially the people.
She considered herself an introvert, but she nurtured many friendships. In all of her communities, the thing that has been said over and over is that if something needed doing, and especially if someone needed help - she was there.
Marie’s family wishes to thank all of her friends and neighbours who checked in, brought food, cleaned up, drove to appointments, and made her smile.
Thank you to her alternative health care providers for improving her quality of life. Thank you as well to her palliative care team; you were so kind. There will never be enough thank yous for Judith, her dear friend of 30+ years, who took on so much while we were far away and feeling helpless.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date once current restrictions ease.
In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to the Ecology Action Centre. https://ecologyaction.ca/
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