96-Year-Old Artist Found Dead of Suicide in Chelsea Townhouse, Sources Say
CHELSEA — A 96-year-old artist and illustrator was found dead in an apparent suicide in her Chelsea townhouse apartment Tuesday morning, sources and neighbors said.
Madeleine Gekiere was discovered inside 427 W. 21st St., near Ninth Avenue, about 11:15 a.m., according to police. She left notes asking that she not be resuscitated.
She was pronounced dead at the scene, the FDNY said.
Gekiere, an artist who drew illustrations for children's books, had lived in the top two floors of the building for decades, neighbors said.
"She's an older woman and she's well-known on the block," said neighbor Gerard Corsini, an attorney who's known her for 15 years. He said she gave him some of her artwork — a collage — as thanks for helping with her will.
"She would come out with a cane and walk by herself," he said. "She was extremely independent — I would offer to accompany her and she said no."
Though Gekiere had a show at the Fred Torres Gallery in 2012, neighbors said age had taken a toll on her body, making it more difficult for her to move around and get up and down the stairs to her fourth-floor studio. She spent time in Bellevue Hospital recovering from a fall a few months ago, neighbors said, and had to walk with a cane ever since.
"She was old, she didn't enjoy life anymore," said Scott Lifschutz, Gekiere's downstairs neighbor. "She had bad days physically."
Gekiere left a suicide note outside of Lifschutz's door on Tuesday morning, but he didn't read it until he was on the subway.
The artist was born in Switzerland in 1919 and fled to the United States before the start of World War II, according to an interview with the blog Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves.
She worked as an illustrator on books by famous authors, including "Switch on the Night" by Ray Bradbury, and has work in several museums, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, according to a biography by the Fred Torres Gallery.
She had no immediate family, but left a stack of letters to be mailed after her death, according to neighbors.
"She was a really smart, really worldly woman," Lifschutz said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story had an incorrect age for Gekiere. She was 96, according to sources.