Ola Cohn

Carola Cohn (1892-1964), sculptor, was born on 25 April 1892 at Bendigo, Victoria, one of five children of Sarah Helen (born Snowball) and Julius Cohn, brewer. She was educated at Girton College, Bendigo, and Bendigo School of Mines, where she attended drawing classes from 1904 and studied modelling from 1910-19. Following her father's death in 1919, she moved with her sister and mother to Melbourne where, from 1920-25, she continued her modelling studies at Swinburne Technical College.

She was an exhibiting member of the Victorian Art Society from 1921 and began her long association with the Melbourne Society of Women Painters in 1922. (She was president of the Society in 1948-64). With her sister Franziska she went to London in 1926 and enrolled in the Royal College of Art (1926-30), where her teachers included Ernest Cole and Henry Moore, who was later to describe Cohn as 'sensitive, hardworking and ambitious'. As with many women artists of her time, she spent what would now seem an inordinately long period in art training.

She travelled extensively in Europe and obviously found England a stimulating place to work. Cohn produced sculptures in a wide range of mediums (wood, stone, plaster, bronze and clay). She was particularly sensitive to the requirements of medium, asserting the importance of abstract principles in sculpture.

She returned to Melbourne in late 1930 and set up a studio in Collins St. In March 1931 Ola Cohn held an exhibition of her last four years work which established her as one of the most important modernist sculptors practising in Australia. It was the elegant simplified forms of her sculptures and the blocky monumental masses, of works like 'Mother and Child' (1926) which attracted most attention. She maintained a pragmatic attitude to conservative critics: 'Having spent my life studying sculpture, it seems ludicrous to be upset by the opinions of those who have not.'

Her early training had been weighted in favour of modelling techniques but at the Royal College of Art she learnt stone carving, which became increasingly important in her later work. Her most important public sculpture, a monumental figure commemorating the strength and courage of early pioneer women (1940), commissioned by the South Australian Women's Centenary Council, was carved directly into the sandstone. Her most successful sculptures have the organic vitality, directness, and architectural simplicity of the most significant of European figurative-modernist work.

She carved fantasy figures in 'The Fairy Tree' in the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne in the 1930s and published three artistically designed children books: The Fairies' Tree (1932), More About the Fairies' Tree (1932) and Castles in the Air (1936). Much later she wrote Mostly Cats (1964) and an unpublished autobiography.

From the 1920s Ola Cohn was committed to making sculpture accessible to the public through lectures and demonstrations. She gave private instruction in sculpture and after she moved her studio to East Melbourne in 1937, established it as a centre for artists. She conducted recreational sculpture lessons for soldiers during the war. From 1940-54 she was a part time lecturer at Melbourne Kindergarten Training College. She gave support and encouragement to several younger women artists and provided permanent housing for the Society of Women Painters and Sculptors in her studio which she left to the Council of Adult Education. Keenly interested in the spiritual and religious issues of life, she was also a great animal lover.

Ola Cohn travelled extensively in Europe and Iceland in 1949-51 and continued to work until late in life. She won the Crouch prize in 1952 for her sculpture 'Abraham' and was awarded the OBE in 1964. She had married John Green, retired government printer, in 1953. She died on 23 December 1964.

Deborah Edwards