Katy Zahner of Santa Marta
Katy Zahner of Santa Marta

The First Annual Greystone Art Competition turned up many talented residents from continuing care retirement communities around the country. After much debate and valuable input from a panel of expert judges, Katy Zahner was named the Overall Winner for her work titled “Pals.”

Zahner, 87, is a resident at Santa Marta, a CCRC in Olathe, Kan. She recently answered questions about her art experience, her prize-winning piece, and life at Santa Marta.

Read the Q&A below, and see photos of the prize-winning pieces in the gallery below:



How long have you been painting?

I started in earnest probably around college. I fooled around before, did what I could, but I started taking lessons then. I went to St. Louis for college for one year, then returned to Kansas City to attend the Kansas City Art Institute. I starting doing shows, and now it’s practically all I can do.

Do others at Santa Marta paint?

There are a few. A couple of men here on my floor started painting in their 80s and did amazingly well. There’s a retired dentist here who does watercolors. There are a few others who did it for a while but not as much now.

What inspired “Pals”?

Well, my husband had a heart attack and was kind of restless and bored because he couldn’t drive his car. So I made an appointment with a photographer. I wanted to take a picture of one of my grandchildren, and I told my husband to come with us. He was sitting outside and laughing with my grandchild, and I told the photographer, “Quick, get a picture.” I happened to have this picture, and I had to paint it.

What was your process like?

I didn’t do it quickly. My way of doing it, I put the small snapshot of the photograph in a projector, and I project it onto a canvas to outline. We had a very fine teacher say: “You haven’t come here to learn how to draw, you came here to learn how to paint. So anything you can do to get yourself to the point of painting more quickly, do it.” So I start from there. I don’t like to paint on white canvas, so I put a wash of something over it to make it not stark white, and I just started painting.

What type of paint do you use?

I use oils. I’ve never painted in watercolor. I get several things from Dick Blick, I send away for those, and I always start with good brushes. That’s so important.

How long does the painting take?

I paint it until I’m through, that’s all I can tell you. I had a friend whose wife died, and he wanted me to paint a portrait of her taken when she was 19. He gave me this picture in black and white, and then he told me pretty much what her coloring was and gave me some snapshots that had been taken later on. I had to get the black and white into her skin color and hair color — it’s not so easy, but I love it. I worked and worked until I was satisfied and he was satisfied. But you can’t just slap a painting of a person together, it’s got to suddenly come alive. When it does, I’m satisfied.

What else are you working on?

I have three great grandsons, and I’m working on this little fella who’s about 2-and-a-half. It’s the perfect age to do a baby. And then I have people come to me with other things, animals. I’d rather do people and animals, but I’ve done a vacation house for someone. When I went to Europe, I did some of the doors. But I prefer people and animals. I finished painting a horse not too long ago, and I love those. I’ve done cats, dogs, horses, birds.

What made you choose Santa Marta?

I was drawn to it as soon as I saw it advertised in my church newspaper. I looked with my daughter everywhere, but nothing called to me like Santa Marta. I have everything I want and everything I need. I’m Catholic, and I have the chance to go to Mass every day. The atmosphere is so nice; we’re friendly. Where else could you go and have more than 100 friends you see every day? This is my home.

See the photos of the winning submissions in the gallery below:

Overall Winner and First Place Independent Living

"Pals" By Katie Zahner of Santa Marta (Olathe, KS)
“Pals” By Katie Zahner of Santa Marta (Olathe, KS)

Second Place Independent Living

"Purple Iris" by Lil Bias of Edgewood Summit (Charleston, WV)
“Purple Iris” by Lil Bias of Edgewood Summit (Charleston, WV)

Third Place Independent Living

"Masterpiece" by John Puryear of Querencia (Austin, TX)
“Masterpiece” by John Puryear of Querencia (Austin, TX)

First Place Health Care

"Summer Bloom" by Marguerite Walker of Edgewood Summit (Charleston, WV)
“Summer Bloom” by Marguerite Walker of Edgewood Summit (Charleston, WV)

Second Place Health Care

"Untitled" by Dorothy Cox of Redstone Village (Huntsville, AL)
“Untitled” by Dorothy Cox of Redstone Village (Huntsville, AL)

Third Place Health Care

"Family II" by Ann Cohn of The Buckingham (Houston, TX)
“Family II” by Ann Cohn of The Buckingham (Houston, TX)