Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

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Cohn, Carola (Ola) (1892 - 1964)

OBE, ARCA

Born
25 April 1892
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia
Died
23 December 1964
Cowes, Victoria, Australia
Occupation
Philanthropist, Sculptor and Author
Alternative Names
  • Green, Ola (married name, 6 May 1953 - )

Summary

Ola Cohn was the first Australian sculptor to carve large commissions free-hand in stone. She created the statue for the Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden in Adelaide, South Australia, and carved the famous Fairies' Tree in Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens. Examples of Ola Cohn's work in bronze, stone and wood are in state and provincial galleries nationwide. On 1 January 1965, Cohn was appointed a Member of the British Empire for her work in the service of art, especially sculpture. Her studio home in Gipps St, East Melbourne, is now known as the Ola Cohn Memorial Centre.

Details

One of six siblings, Carola (Ola) Cohn was born to Julius Cohn and Sarah Helen Snowball in Bendigo. Both parents were born in Australia: Ola's maternal grandparents arrived from England in 1850, and her paternal grandparents from Denmark in 1852. Ola was educated at Girton College, Bendigo, but studied drawing and sculpture at the Bendigo School of Mines. She went on to study at Swinburne Technical College in Melbourne, and finally, at the Royal College of Art in London. Exhibitions of her work were held all over Australia as well as in London, Paris and Glasgow. In 1930 she received a request from the office of H.R.H The Prince of Wales for a piece of her work to be part of an exhibition given in aid of the British Legion. Years later a faded newspaper clipping reads: 'When still a child she saw that most people were content to live, die and be forgotten. Her determination to become a sculptor, and that in this profession her work and memory would endure, commenced at the age of seven when she first modelled figures in wet sand'.

Ola Cohn was the first Australian sculptor to carve large commissions free-hand in stone. A pioneer of modernist sculpture in this country, her early work generated terrific controversy when it was exhibited in Melbourne in 1931. Over the course of her career, however, Cohn completed numerous commissions in Australia including two sandstone figures for the Royal Hobart Hospital, a six foot lime-stone Pioneer Women's Memorial for Adelaide's Garden of Remembrance and the bronze entitled 'Comedy'. In 1952 she received the Crouch Prize in Ballarat - the first and only sculptor to receive the honour - for her wood carving, Abraham. Cohn was perhaps most famous for carving The Fairies' Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens between 1931-34. This was a gift to the children of Melbourne, and she received no payment for the work.

Ola Cohn was a central figure in the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, hosting life drawing classes every Friday night at her studio and serving as president of the Society for many years. She joined the Lyceum Club, and the Arts, Press and Letters Committee for the National Council of Women.

The extent of Cohn's philanthropic activity is difficult to assess. One newspaper described her as a 'charity worker', but she is unlikely to have been given honorary life membership of the Royal Children's Hospital simply because she was weaving scarves for charity - which she was indeed doing. Her extensive archives give little clue as to what kind of financial assistance she was able to provide, but certainly she opened her famous studio from time to time to raise money for a particular cause. In this way she raised £400 in aid of the Red Cross, the Comforts Fund and Food for Britain during WWII. She also held art classes for soldiers recovering from injury. Cohn assisted appeals for the Children's Hospital, Save the Children's Fund, Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Heart Foundation, The Cultural Centre Melbourne, and Animal Relief.

Cohn's greatest philanthropic gesture was her bequest to the Council of Adult Education. To this body she left her home and studio at 41 Gipps Street, East Melbourne and a collection of her works, with the idea that it would become a sculpture school. The bequest was valued at just under £1 million. Poor financial management on the part of the CAE led to an attempt to sell the property, but this was thwarted by a legal battle headed by Cohn's niece Helen Bruinier. It is now known as the Ola Cohn Memorial Centre.

Ola Cohn was married at the age of 61 to her friend Herbert John Green, a retired Victorian Government Printer. She was appointed a Member of the British Empire for her work in the service of art, especially sculpture, on 1 January 1965.

Events

1910 - 1919
Attended art classes at the Bendigo School of Mines
1920 - 1925
Studied at Swinburne Technical College, Melbourne
1921
Member of the Victorian Art Society
1922 - 1964
Member of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors
1926
Carved Head of a Virgin, now in the National Gallery of Victoria, which was considered very modern in Australia at the time
1926
Attended the Royal College of Art, London where her lecturers included Henry Moore for sculpture
1928
Awarded a Royal College of Art, London free studentship
1929
Became an associate of the Royal College of Art, London
1930
Established a studio at 9 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria
1931 - 1934
Carved The Fairies' Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne
March 1931
Held an exhibition of her overseas work
1933
Taught art at Geelong Church of England Grammar School
1937
Moved to 41 Gipps Street, East Melbourne where she made her studio a centre for artists
1938
Produced two seven-foot (2.1m) sandstone figures, representing Science and Humanity, for the Royal Hobart Hospital, Tasmania
1939
Executed 19 panels for the Mutual Life and Citizens Building, Sydney New South Wales - 14 were designed by Murray Griffen
1940 - 1941
Carved the limestone Pioneer Woman memorial statue, Adelaide
1940 - 1954
Part-time lecturer in art at the Melbourne Kindergarten Teacher's College
1948
Won the Roman Catholic Diocesan Centenary Prize in Melbourne
1948 - 1964
President of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors
1949 - 1951
Travelled to Europe and Iceland
1952
Won the Crouch Prize - the first time it had been won by a sculptor - for a wood carving
6 May 1953
Married Herbert John Green, retired government printer
1 January 1964
Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services rendered in the service of art, especially sculpture

Sources used to compile this entry: Alexander, Joseph A (ed.), Who's Who in Australia 1962, 17 edn, Colorgravure Publications, Melbourne, 1962, 960 pp; Kerr, Joan (ed.), Heritage : the national women's art book, 500 works by 500 Australian women artists from colonial times to 1955, Craftsman House, Roseville East, NSW, 1995, 483 pp; Lemon, Barbara, 'In Her Gift: Activism and Altruism in Australian Women's Philanthropy, 1880-2005', PhD thesis, School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne, 2008; Scarlett, Ken, 'Cohn, Carola (1892 - 1964)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, Australian National University, 2006, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A080064b.htm; http://members.ozemail.com.au/~scsiac/ accessed 2002-03-06.

Related entries

Related Cultural Artefacts

Archival resources

National Library of Australia

National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room

  • [Biographical cuttings on Ola Cohn, sculptor]; National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room. Details

State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection

  • Album belonging to Ola Cohn, c. 1904 - 1950, RANGE 56 (in box with PA 99/100); Cohn, Carola (Ola) (1892 - 1964); State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection. Details
  • Lyceum Club (Melbourne) Records, 1912 - 1970, MS 11270; State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection. Details
  • The Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors Records, 1904 - 1978, MS 10713; State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection. Details
  • Papers of Ola Cohn, MS 8506; Cohn, Carola (Ola) (1892 - 1964); State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection. Details
  • Photograph album belonging to Ola Cohn, c. 1920, 1026/6; Cohn, Carola (Ola) (1892 - 1964); State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection. Details

Digital resources

Title
Ola Cohn with Cat
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Ola Cohn with Magpie
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Title
Ola Cohn on Garden Seat
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Ola Cohn at Gipps Street Studio
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Anne Heywood and Barbara Lemon

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE0323b.htm

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