Elizabeth Shari Kadar, beloved mother, wife, prolific artist, and inspiration for so many, passed away peacefully on February 11th at home with family near by. She was 91, and was sharp and sassy until the end. A few months ago on her birthday she played several piano pieces she had learned as a child and sang several Hungarian folks songs flawlessly, the words she had memorized but had not sung in over 80 years.
Shari was born in the small village of Kazsok in the center of Hungary near Lake Balaton, on November 21, 1926, shortly after the First World War tore apart her country and the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her father, Karoly Balla, was the town’s Protestant minister and her mother, Elizabeth Szucs Balla, was a strong matriarch. She had two brothers and a younger sister. Shari often spoke fondly of her childhood when she was the family’s spark and prankster. Her tales from time spent in a girls’ boarding school far from home and during the war were both funny and inspiring.
Germany’s invasion of Hungary in 1944, brought terrible hardships to everyone, in the villages and in the capitol Budapest, too many to relate here, but when the war ended, Shari moved to Budapest and started teachers college intending to become a physical education instructor. There, she met and married Dr. Geza Kadar in 1947. Geza was a young lawyer and diplomat in the short-lived democratically elected government which lasted only a couple of years before a Communist Party led coup d’etat. For political reasons, Shari and Geza had to flee Hungary in the winter of 1948. Shari’s brother Bondi, was imprisoned for five years, just for helping them escape across the border into Austria. They settled in Zurich, Switzerland where their son, Geza Jr. was born. In 1950, they emigrated to Melbourne Australia where they began to rebuild their lives, without relatives and without friends. Their son Bence was born in 1950 and their daughter Kathy in 1952. These years, she remembers as being tough and often even bleak.
Eight years later, the family sold everything they had built and boarded a ship for San Francisco and the town of Napa where things started to pick up. She never forgot that amazing first visit from the ladies of the “Napa Welcome Wagon,” the warmth and generosity of the members of the First Presbyterian Church in Napa, and the embrace given them by the faculty of Ridgeview Junior High School, where Geza became a teacher in 1958.
In her late 40’s Shari discovered an outlet for the memories and emotions that had built up inside her. Fellow Napa artist, Helen Kask, first introduced her to stone sculpting. From then on she saw “art as the way to set herself free.” While her children were still in high school, she often abandoned household chores and escaped to the backyard for days at a time to find the sculpture hidden within the stone. Her first work was of her little sister, Judit, who she left behind long ago. Shari really came alive through her art projects. For ten years she labored on project after project building her self confidence. At age 58 her portfolio qualified her for entrance to the acclaimed California College of the Arts in Oakland where she not only excelled, she blossomed. Those were the happiest years of her life. She graduated with a bachelors of fine arts degree with highest distinction at age 62.
Shari parted with Geza, her husband in 1990. He found a rich and meaningful life for himself after returning to Hungary as a member of the first class of US Peace Corps volunteers after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Geza died in Budapest at age 93 in 2013.
Shari meanwhile found continued enthusiasm for life in her paintings, embroidery, and ceramics. Josef Kercso came dancing into her life in 1998 and they were married in 2006. Shari and Josef collaborated on the design and construction of a beautiful modern house in Santa Rosa, which is filled with their life’s work and serves as a lasting tribute to their remarkable creative talents. During their years together, Shari often said that Josef’s support for her art was a consistent blessing.
Shari always kept a safe place in her heart for her homeland, Hungary. She returned often, but seeing first-hand the consequences of the Communist regime always pained her deeply. During a conversation about home and country with a relative from Budapest, she said that although she was born and raised in Hungary, her true home was the United States and that she was an American. When asked why, she said, “This is the country that welcomed us as refugees, gave my family shelter, work for my husband, and a wonderful future for my kids.”
The entire span of her life’s work in sculpture, ceramics, painting, embroidery, and folk arts, shows how deeply the traditional Hungarian patterns, designs, and craftsmanship were rooted in her soul. Her most recent project, her 2000+ hand-decorated wooden eggs, is a good example. Shari only started this amazing project after she lost the use of one of her eyes. (Google Shari Kadar—Press Democrat) Shari was never happier than when she was in “the Studio” painting with her “Art Ladies,” students and fellow artists who devoted their Tuesdays, to paint, eat, and gossip together.
Shari was the matriarch of a rapidly expanding family, the members of which she drew near to her by building a unique relationship with each and every one of us. In addition to her husband Josef Kercso and her two surviving children ( Bence was killed in a jeeping accident in 2010) Shari is survived by her daughters-in-law Barbara Kadar and Tara Harvey; her grandchildren, Lisa (Kadar) Pursley, Brian Kadar, Elliot Kadar, Andrew Kadar, and Myles Pauletich. Shari also had five great-grandchildren. The family is very grateful for the loving care provided to Shari by her care taker Sera Kalinivetau.
The legacy of this amazing woman, for family and friends, will be a treasure trove of images and stories that will inspire us forever. She was truly one of a kind.
A retrospective of her artwork will be on exhibit in the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa, May 21st through July 13th with a reception planned for May 24th at 5-7 PM.