Donna Koren

Donna Koren

Ortega resident Donna Koren’s energy and vivaciousness belies her age, making it hard to believe the petite dynamo is a 1963 Lee High School graduate who’s been creating art in Jacksonville for 52 years.

Koren_02A Jacksonville native, Koren is an award-winning commercial illustrator, artist and designer whose list of employers and clients includes May-Cohens, Furchgott’s, Stein Mart, Florida Times-Union/Water’s Edge Magazine, popular restaurants and magazines.

She has also taught children’s art classes at the Jacksonville Art Museum, when it was located at the Koger Center, and partnered with the late George Johnson of Avondale in the successful Artwear Screen Printing & Design Company.

Koren grew up in Murray Hill. She is the daughter of the late Albert George Koren and his wife, Katherine Pacula Koren. Her parents moved to Jacksonville in 1939, and were well-known local personalities.

Koren_03Koren’s mother owned the Katherine Koren Beauty Studio in 5 Points, above Owens Pharmacy. Donna recalls looking out the shop’s large windows and seeing everything down Park Street. When she was young, Koren relished the angel food cake with fluffy white icing from Goode’s Bakery, requesting it for every birthday and recalling it was “light as air and the best tasting cake ever.”

As a junior high student she often walked from her mother’s salon down to the Children’s Museum on Riverside Avenue for art lessons and joined the “Duval Discoverers” in summertime. The group traveled to interesting spots: Little Talbot Island, Ft. Clinch, or the ocean where they studied and collected seashells, butterflies or artifacts. Every outing ended with a swim.

Koren_05When her mother’s elderly clients could no longer climb the stairs up to her salon, she moved to a street-level space just across from Owens, and re-named the salon Katherine Koren Coiffures. The salon thrived in bustling 5 Points until its sale in the late 1980s. Koren’s mother died in 1993.

Koren’s father, Albert, was an award-winning artist, glass-blower, poet, violinist, golfer and a tennis pro. In Jacksonville he was a political cartoonist for the Chronicle newspaper. Donna’s scrapbook of her father’s political cartoons traces city political and social history from 1939 until his death in 1952. One cartoon commemorates Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to Jacksonville on January 6, 1939. Roosevelt came to congratulate cigar factory owner Carl Swisher on the opening of the nation’s first on-site daycare at Swisher’s Jacksonville headquarters.

Koren_01Koren’s dad also owned a neon sign business on Hogan Street. Koren said her father designed the neon sign for Creamette Ice Cream on Post Street and later altered the sign when owners changed the name to Dreamette.

Koren inherited her parents’ work ethic as well as her father’s artistic abilities in multiple media, particularly his deft skill for uncanny caricature. She has drawn more than 200 caricatures of local notable citizens for display in the former Adams Street restaurant, Doodles Eating & Drinking Emporium. When the restaurant closed during 1991 the caricatures vanished, leaving a mystery with no clue to their whereabouts.

Other highlights of Koren’s art career include her participation in Jacksonville’s collective arts scene, Imagination Squared! Creative Response Experiment, where hundreds of local artists created squares grouped into one immense artwork for the Mixed Cargo Exhibition 2010 at JAXPORT Cruise Terminal.

Koren_04When she was growing up, Koren’s family lived in the developer’s model home on Dellwood Avenue in Murray Hill. Koren walked with her friends to Ruth N. Upson Elementary School. In junior high school, at John Gorrie Middle School, she won her first award for artistic creativity.

“I was a tomboy, always climbing trees or catching bugs and butterflies. My collection of bugs and butterflies won a blue ribbon in the ninth grade Science Fair at John Gorrie,” she said.

While their parents were at work, the Koren kids were cared for by their housekeeper, Bea Jones. Koren and her brother did acrobatic tricks in their backyard when Al wasn’t working on their treehouse or on his ham radio transmitters in the garage.

Koren_06After her 1963 graduation from Robert E. Lee High School, Koren briefly attended South Georgia College. Over the holidays she accepted a position in the May-Cohens Department Store credit department. An unexpected opportunity to be a fashion illustrator became available and Koren didn’t hesitate.

“I gathered my art drawings from school, got an interview and showed them to the advertising director. He hired me to do the men’s art illustrations and soon I was illustrating the women’s fashions, too,” she said.

Koren returned to South Georgia College, graduating in 1966 with an associate science degree. She briefly enrolled at the University of Georgia but, unhappy with their art classes, she returned home to work and save money for study in Europe. While she worked at Furchgott’s Department store illustrating fashions, she reconnected with high school boyfriend Bill Floyd, Jr. The couple married, settled in Leesburg, Florida and had a son, Bill Floyd, III.

After their divorce, Koren moved with her son back to Jacksonville where she worked for May-Cohens from 1976 to 1988, a position which gained her entry into the community of local artists who identify each other with the phrase “I knew him/her from May-Cohens…” That group includes artists and designers such as Ward Lariscy, Forrest Brewer, Ann Manry Kenyon, Allison Watson, Joanelle Wood Mulrain and Gary Adler, among others.

Koren_09Koren is still in touch with school friends, meeting monthly for dinner to reminisce and catch up with each other’s lives, she said. She especially enjoys spending time with her son and his wife, also of Ortega.

Koren said she keeps in close touch with her siblings, brother Alfred Koren, a retired GE electronics engineer and his wife, Maria, and their daughter Kristine Koren, an investment management attorney in New York City. Her sister, Kathy Koren Hicks, of Atlanta is a realtor and Kathy’s daughter, Jennifer Hicks, works in television and film.

Koren’s most eccentric family member is Henrietta, the Rhode Island hen who “adopted” Koren this past summer and resides contentedly in a plant- and flower-filled backyard oasis.

A do-it-yourselfer, Koren intends to brick in her own patio and envisions a distinctly non-traditional chicken coop for Henrietta’s safety. Henrietta’s housing has moved up Koren’s priority list because she roosts on the beams of Koren’s porch, disrupting the peaceful hodgepodge of her quirky wren houses and their tiny, indignant inhabitants.

Koren is currently illustrating a children’s book and can’t wait to start the mosaics she has been saving colorful bits and pieces to create.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident CommunityNews

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