Storyteller Adèle Koehnke brings her grandmother Doris Huestis Mills Speirs' story and art to life at Morningside Library Oct. 7. Speirs was a writer, naturalist and contemporary painter of the Group of Seven.

Grandmother’s artistry inspires Scarborough storyteller

Doris Huestis Mills Speirs was a writer, naturalist and contemporary painter of the Group of Seven whose work now hangs in the AGO and the National Gallery.

On Oct. 7, a small but captive audience of nine listened as Adèle Koehnke, Speirs’ granddaughter and local storyteller, spoke about and showed artwork and photographs by and of her grandmother at Morningside Library.

Like her grandmother, Koehnke is a painter, but she says that pursuit is more of a hobby. She’s made a career of telling stories to people of all ages, starting a business, Adèle’s Stories, in 2003.

“I have multi interests, and each one I treat with great respect,” Koehnke says. “They are the key to greater pleasure in life, a comfort.”

She uses her artistic talents in her storytelling, making hand-drawn colouring sheets for kids and keepsake greeting cards for adults. Koehnke also likes to draw portraits of participants after telling a story, which she says gives her a chance to get to know them.

Tom Parsons, a longtime friend of Koehnke’s, says she’s got great talent in visual art, even if it is just a hobby. He and his wife have purchased several of her pieces and have them hanging in their home.

“She can draw a person’s eyes like no one I’ve ever seen,” Parsons says. “If there’s a symbol of a great artist, isn’t it how they do eyes?”

Though Speirs died in 1989, Koehnke says she continues to be a tremendous influence on her life.

“Her encouragement is always with me because she saw me as someone very special,” Koehnke said. “I think she saw many people as special, but I always felt rather treasured.”