by Len Lear
When you see the paintings currently on exhibit until June 30 at Cathedral Village in upper Roxborough by Emilie Rivinus Brégy, you cannot help but be stunned by the fact that these are mostly recent paintings by a lifelong Chestnut Hill area artist who celebrated her 100th birthday last year on Aug. 16.
Anne Saltman, one of Emilie’s four daughters and a New York state resident, told us, “She’s very active, energetic and smart, and you won’t be disappointed (when you interview her).”
That is an understatement. In fact, I doubt if there is another 100-year-old artist in the country who is actually selling recent paintings. “I sold two paintings yesterday,” Emilie said in the June 9 interview.
When asked how she is able to continue painting both representational and abstract paintings, both watercolors and oil, at such a high level at age 100, Emilie said, “I eat healthy and exercise. I do not play tennis and golf, like I used to, but I do get out and walk a lot.”
As a child, Brégy went to Beaver Summer Camp in Maine, where she picked up the nickname “Kayo,” and about 90 years later, “Everybody still calls me that. It stuck. In fact, when I meet new people today and tell them my name is Emilie, they will say, ‘I thought it was ‘Kayo.’”
Brégy, a lifelong artist specializing in landscapes, abstracts and portraiture, has her home and studio at Cathedral Village, where she has lived for 20 years. “It’s really great here,” said Emilie, who previously lived in Blue Bell Woods and on West Moreland Avenue before that.
Brégy was in the 1938 class of Springside School, but she also went to the now-defunct Ravenhill Academy in Germantown and then a convent in Connecticut, but she did not graduate from any of them. She then spent a year in Italy as a young adult, which sparked a life-long appreciation for art.
This prompted her to take courses at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, but she did not graduate from them, either. “I am not a graduator,” she said with a smile, but she did have a 25-year career as a guide at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Emilie’s formal portraits of politicians, college presidents and judges are displayed throughout the U.S. Her portraits of former Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer (1967 to 1971) and several Commonwealth Court judges hang in the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. She also painted a portrait of Milton Eisenhower, brother of former General and President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower.
Her informal family portraits of men, women and children with their pets are well-known, especially in the Philadelphia area. Throughout her professional career, Emilie has broadened her artistic perspective through extensive travel. In addition to numerous watercolor landscapes of the Maine coast, her paintings also document trips to India, Thailand, Japan, Yemen, Italy, Spain and Mexico.
During the past several years, she has produced representations of the Maine coastline. She will paint a photographic realism landscape and then an abstract rendering of the same scene. Her paintings of rocky shorelines and the natural environment are distinctive, bold and dramatic.
“The best part about my career,” said Emilie, “has been the joy of displaying my work at various venues and in prominent homes throughout the country.” Emilie said her own favorite artists have been Matisse, Wold Kahn and Oscar Bluemner.
Emilie Rivinus Brégy is a cousin of the late F. Markoe (“Koey”) Rivinus, who died in 2006 at his home in Chestnut Hill at age 91. His wife of 68 years, Anne Hutchins Rivinus, died in 2010 at age 94. Koey and Anne were both local legends for planting countless trees and numerous other beautification projects in and around Chestnut Hill and the Wissahickon Valley.
Emilie was married for 47 years to Philip Brégy, one-time lawyer for Drinker, Biddle & Reath, who died in 1988 at age 75. Their daughters are named Phyllis, Carol, Anne and Joan.