Bonnie Schwartz was most at peace toiling away in the backyard art studio of her Woodbury home.
The mother of two boys loved new challenges and made art for friends, family and customers using her greatest gift — an incredible creative vision.
That vision was at work one day when she was cleaning out the garage with her husband, Lee Schwartz. She threw his collection of old license plates in the garbage, but he resisted. She relented, then was inspired to repurpose them into a map of the United States.
From there, a business was born. Working out of the studio that she built herself, Schwartz started Artistic License, a website where she sold her license plate artwork, which varied from Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen portraits to college and sports logos.
Bonnie Schwartz, who operated her business for more than a decade, died Sept. 30 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset after a long battle with metastatic breast cancer, her family said. She was 53.
"She liked making new things and having challenges," said Lee Schwartz, 52. "Somebody once said, ‘I lived in seven different states. I have the license plates from when I lived in each of those seven states, make me something.’
"So she came up with the idea of making a row of mailboxes that you see in rural areas, and each one was made out of the license plate for the state that they lived in," he recalled.
Bonnie Schwartz's artistic flair didn’t stop at license plates. After picking up woodworking from her husband, who worked as a carpenter’s helper for one youthful summer, she was able to remodel her kitchen virtually by herself.
"She literally built the cabinets from scratch," Lee Schwartz said. "She didn’t pre-order them from a company. She took wood, cut it, and stained it. She had people helping her with the electrical work and the plumbing, but she did all the woodworking."
"She was like Bob the Builder," said friend Stephanie Ginsberg of Jericho. "Bonnie the Builder."
Another friend, Hilary Slavin of Woodbury, said, "Bonnie was just somebody that you wanted to be around. When she smiled, it lit up the room. When she smiled, you just wanted to grab her and hug her, and you just knew it was genuine. She was a great friend, a great mother and great wife."
Born Feb. 16, 1967, in New Haven, Connecticut, Bonnie Schwartz grew up in Woodbridge, Connecticut. There, she attended Amity Regional High School before going off to the University of Michigan, where she met her future husband. She graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Lee Schwartz said.
"We became friends," said Lee Schwartz, who lived a few doors down from her in their freshman dorm. "We were best friends for two years and then we became better friends. We’re like Chandler and Monica on ‘Friends.’ "
The two were married on Sept. 1, 1991, at the Rye Town Hilton in Westchester and raised two sons, Scott, 27, of Manhattan, and Marc, 24, of Woodbury. When the two boys would spend the summer at Timber Lake Camp in upstate Shandaken, she would relish going up to see them compete in the Gordon Cup, an annual roller hockey tournament between local camps.
"That was the highlight of her summer," Lee Schwartz said. "It was one of the highlights of our lives when both our kids were on the team that won the championship."
Bonnie Schwartz loved sports and travel. After playing golf as a child, she rediscovered it four years ago and fell back in love with the sport. She played the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in California with her husband last summer for their 28th anniversary.
Bonnie Schwartz was a big Yankees fan and loved football. She and her family went to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis in 2018 and watched the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots. Each Sunday, she could be found on a couch, watching football with her sons.
"She fiercely loved her children," Ginsberg said.
In addition to her husband and sons, Schwartz is survived by her parents, Joel and Iny Karp of Connecticut, and sister, Betsy Karp of Manhattan. Schwartz was buried Friday at New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon, where the family held a small graveside service, her husband said.