Leo Kohn, a chemist who spent his retirement years in Charlotte, teaching and donating time and pottery to the arts community, died Wednesday of cancer. He was 84.
The native New Yorker relocated to Charlotte a few years after his retirement from General Electric, where he focused on the development of plastics, laminates and epoxy resins. But he and his wife always had a passion for the arts.
“When I was a kid, every Sunday we had the Metropolitan Opera playing in the house,” said Kohn's son, Bernie. “It was something that was always a part of their lives.”
Kohn used his chemistry background to further the arts, gaining recognition for developing chemical processes to restore classic works.
After moving to Charlotte, Kohn and his wife, Elizabeth, became collectors and recognized experts in North Carolina pottery. Kohn would pepper potters with questions about their work, trying to gauge the chemical processes behind the finished product.
“He would ask them questions that they had never heard before,” Bernie Kohn said. “He would ask, ‘What kind of mixtures went in there?' Did they add copper? Did they add magnesium? How long did they keep it in the kiln? What did they do when they took it out?”
The Kohns also collected pottery, and part of the Leo and Elizabeth Kohn collection went on display at the Mint Museum in 2006. And as a docent for the Mint Museum, Leo Kohn would include chemistry facts in tours. “If you were a middle schooler or a parent of a middle schooler in Charlotte who went through the Mint museum, chances are you had my dad on tour,” Bernie Kohn said.