• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: AWE0323

Cohn, Carola (Ola)

(1892 – 1964) Ola Cohn with Cat
  • Born 25 April, 1892, Bendigo Victoria Australia
  • Died 23 December, 1964, Cowes Victoria Australia
  • Occupation Author, Philanthropist, Sculptor


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.


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.



  • 1910 - 1919

    Attended art classes at the Bendigo School of Mines

  • 1920 - 1925

    Studied at Swinburne Technical College, Melbourne

  • 1926 - 1926

    Attended the Royal College of Art, London where her lecturers included Henry Moore for sculpture

  • 1928 - 1928

    Awarded a Royal College of Art, London free studentship

  • 1929 - 1929

    Became an associate of the Royal College of Art, London

  • 1930 - 1930

    Established a studio at 9 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria

  • 1926 - 1926

    Carved Head of a Virgin, now in the National Gallery of Victoria, which was considered very modern in Australia at the time

  • 1940 - 1941

    Carved the limestone Pioneer Woman memorial statue, Adelaide

  • 1933 - 1933

    Taught art at Geelong Church of England Grammar School

  • 1940 - 1954

    Part-time lecturer in art at the Melbourne Kindergarten Teacher’s College

  • 1948 - 1948

    Won the Roman Catholic Diocesan Centenary Prize in Melbourne

  • 1952 - 1952

    Won the Crouch Prize – the first time it had been won by a sculptor – for a wood carving

  • 1938 - 1938

    Produced two seven-foot (2.1m) sandstone figures, representing Science and Humanity, for the Royal Hobart Hospital, Tasmania

  • 1939 - 1939

    Executed 19 panels for the Mutual Life and Citizens Building, Sydney New South Wales – 14 were designed by Murray Griffen

  • 2007 - 2007

    Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women

  • 2064 - 2064

    Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services rendered in the service of art, especially sculpture

    Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1948 - 1964

    President of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors

  • 2053 - 2053

    Married Herbert John Green, retired government printer

  • 1921 - 1921

    Member of the Victorian Art Society

  • 1922 - 1964

    Member of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors

  • 2031 - 2031

    Held an exhibition of her overseas work

  • 1937 - 1937

    Moved to 41 Gipps Street, East Melbourne where she made her studio a centre for artists

  • 1949 - 1951

    Travelled to Europe and Iceland

  • 1931 - 1934

    Carved The Fairies’ Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne

Published resources

  • Journal Article
    • Carved magic at the bottom of the gardens, McManus, Bridget, 2003
  • Book
    • Castles in the Air, Cohn, Ola, 1936
    • The Fairies' Tree, Cohn, Ola; Davies, Norman (collaboration with); Wood, Marjorie (illustrations and decorations by) and King, Tom (music by), 1932
    • More about the Fairies' Tree, Cohn, Ola, 1933
    • Mostly Cats, Cohn, Ola, 1964
    • Ola Cohn's Fairies Tree, Delander, Sonja and Buckingham, Rick (photography by), 1972
    • More Than Just Gumtrees: A Personal, Social and Artistic History of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, Peers, Juliet, 1993
    • Glass After Glass: Autobiographical Reflections, Blackman, Barbara, 1997
  • Catalogue
    • Ola Cohn 1982-1964: Sculpture, Cohn, Ola
  • Book Section
    • Brushing the dust off, Welch, Maureen and Kruger, Lois; Kearney, Verna (graphics and editing); Errington, Helen (poster artwork and production), [1990]
  • Resource Section
  • Resource
  • Edited Book
    • Who's Who in Australia 1962, Alexander, Joseph A, 1962
    • Heritage : the national women's art book, 500 works by 500 Australian women artists from colonial times to 1955, Kerr, Joan, 1995
    • 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Radi, Heather, 1988
  • Newspaper Article
    • Melbourne painters prepare to fight, Ketchell, Misha
    • Artists allowed to stay in sculptor's house
    • Ola Cohn's house and studio still in question, Backhouse, Megan
    • $100,000 gift to help restore artists' centre
    • Women artists still call Ola Cohn Centre home
  • Thesis
    • In Her Gift: Activism and Altruism in Australian Women's Philanthropy, 1880-2005, Lemon, Barbara, 2008
  • Site Exhibition

Archival resources

  • State Library of Victoria
    • Album, [ca. 1904-1950] [manuscript].
    • Papers of Ola Cohn, 1912-1964. [manuscript].
    • Photograph album, ca. 1920. [manuscript].
    • Records, 1904-1995. [manuscript].
    • Records, 1912-ca. 1970. [manuscript].
  • National Library of Australia
    • [Biographical cuttings on Ola Cohn, sculptor, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals]
    • Bust of Fritz Hart [realia] / Ola Cohn

Digital resources

Related entries

  • Membership
    • Lyceum Club (Melbourne) (1912 - )
  • Related Cultural Artefacts
    • Pioneer Women's Memorial Garden
  • Presided
    • The Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors (1902 - )
  • Related Organisations
    • National Council of Women of Victoria (1902 - )