Mary Kocher, a well-known local artist, recently celebrated her 90th birthday at a surprise party, given by her friends in the Carbon County Art League, and held at the home of Bill and Penny Allison.

The celebration was a first for Kocher.

"I couldn't believe it. It's the first party I've had in my 90 years," Kocher said. "We were matter of fact about such matters. We didn't have birthday parties. We were just busy with our lives."

Kocher grew up in Morgantown, W.V. As a child, she was immersed in art, as it was an interest of her parents and siblings.

"I was home with the measles at 4 years of age," Kocher remembers of her first interest in art. "I looked out the window and sketched a distant landscape."

At 22, she began work as a bookkeeper at the University of West Virginia. She met and married a chemist working on the Manhattan project in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Her first child was born there in 1945, on the day one of the atomic bombs was dropped on Japan.

After the war, her husband joined the New Jersey Zinc Company as a chemist, and the family moved to Palmerton in 1946.

After a Palmerton woman introduced her to oil painting, Kocher signed up for art lessons at the Baum Art School in Allentown.

She honed her craft over six summers at a Rockport, Massachusetts art colony. "It's where all the famous artists gathered in the summertime," noted Kocher. "The light was glorious."

From her Palmerton home, and at Lehigh Valley Community College (LCCC now), Kocher taught oil painting.

Kocher's work is well known throughout the area and she is highly respected by fellow members of the art league that she helped found 45 years ago.

About 30 of her paintings are at the main branch of the Mauch Chunk Trust Company in Jim Thorpe.

Kocher loves Victorian buildings. She typically sketches the scene and takes photographs of the details, then returns to her studio where she makes modifications to capture Victorian colors, sometimes adds people or transportation. Sometimes, she will even change the season.

"Art was always the most interesting thing I could have gotten into," Kocher said. "I loved it, and I still love it."