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Betty Kirshner, longtime LI artist and teacher, dies at 86

Betty Kirshner, shown in this undated photo, died

Betty Kirshner, shown in this undated photo, died on July 6, 2015.

Betty Kirshner, a longtime art teacher and artist, was a petite woman with a large presence who exhibited her work all over Long Island and left her mark through her paintings, her family said.

Kirshner, 86, died July 6 of complications from pneumonia in the intensive care unit of Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre. In her final days, daughter Karen Kirshner covered the walls of the hospital room in her mother's paintings -- landscapes and portraits, all drenched in color.

"She really died in a gallery of her work," Karen Kirshner said.

Betty Kirshner was born the last of three siblings to Lily and David Berman on March 14, 1929. She grew up in the East Tremont section of the Bronx and graduated from James Monroe High School, where she met her future husband. She had always been creative and artistic -- she first saw the man she would marry when she went to the high school newspaper, of which he was editor, to submit poetry -- and after graduating she attended Hunter College for a few years before she and Samuel J. Kirshner wed in 1950.

Before long, Kirshner and her husband were raising three children on Long Island in a new house in East Meadow, where Kirshner lived the rest of her life, and where her daughter now lives. Karen Kirshner, 57, said that when she was in high school, her mother went back to college and received a bachelor's degree in art education from Adelphi University in 1973. Betty Kirshner began teaching art as a substitute teacher in public schools and directed an arts and crafts program developed by the Carnegie Foundation for gifted children in Brookville while developing her oeuvre in what Karen called the humanist expressionist style of painting.

Throughout her career, Kirshner won awards for her paintings and exhibited extensively in gallery shows on Long Island, in New York City and in Florida, her daughter said.

Kirshner was small -- weighing 100 pounds or less -- but not in her actions. Her daughter told a story of the time their home caught fire around Thanksgiving in 1999. Kirshner's husband was frail then -- he died two years later -- so she got him to a window, pushed him out and dragged him to the car to save him from the flames.

"He would have been dead otherwise," Karen Kirshner said. "She was a miracle woman."

Toward the end of her life, she enjoyed painting with her daughter. And when she could no longer paint due to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, she still surrounded herself with art.

"She brought so much life in her art, so much beauty and life to the environment," Karen Kirshner said. "It was just so potent to feel that and see that."

Besides her daughter, Kirshner is survived by another daughter, Abby Rothschild-Kaplan, and a son, Mark Kirshner, both of East Meadow; a brother, Sam Berman of Reseda, California; and two grandchildren.

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