This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000
Edward Frederick Kohler (1890-1964), sculptor, was born on 27 May 1890 at Tarampa, near Lowood, Queensland, son of Prussian-born parents August Friedrich Kohler, carpenter, and his wife Annie Hilda Limprich. Lured by the discovery of gold, Gus left for Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, about 1893; Hilda and her four children followed him six months later. The Kohlers led an itinerant life in the backblocks and Edward's formal education was minimal. A shy young man, with a talent for music and art, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith at Narrogin. After his parents separated, he joined his father at Korrelocking.
On 18 February 1915 Kohler enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He fought with the 11th Battalion at Gallipoli (from June) and on the Western Front (from March 1916). In November 1916 he was posted to I Anzac (later Australian) Corps schools as an instructor in gunnery. Promoted company sergeant major in January 1917, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his diligence and for using his spare time to make sectional drawings of gun-parts. He was discharged in England on 15 April 1919. During the war he had married Denise Marie Louise Devacht (d.1936), a 24-year-old Belgian; they were to have twin sons. In 1921-28 he performed clerical duties with the Imperial War Graves Commission in France.
Kohler attended the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Lille, from 1928. He also studied the modelling of animals, particularly horses, under René Joire. In 1930-32 he worked for M. Subricas, a French sculptor, and spent eight months at Pierre de Soete's studio in Brussels, producing war memorials, busts, medals and trophies. Due to the breakdown of his marriage, and to regulations which prevented foreigners from obtaining government commissions in France and Belgium, Kohler returned to Western Australia in 1932. He became chief sculptor at the Ajax Plaster Co. Ltd's studios in West Perth where he received the most prosaic of assignments, such as garden ornaments and heads (based on Hollywood movie-stars) for hat shops. At the chapel of the Churches of Christ, Perth, on 17 November 1937 he married Eileen Hazel Cook, a 31-year-old artist.
After winning a national competition with his equestrian statue of King George V, which was unveiled in 1938 outside the Brisbane City Hall, numerous public and private commissions came Kohler's way: they included the Sir Talbot Hobbs memorial (1940) on Riverside Drive, Perth, and bas-relief panels for buildings such as the Piccadilly Theatre, Karrakatta Crematorium, the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Western Australia and the Collie Mine Workers' Institute (1952). Kohler was the second professionally trained sculptor to practise successfully in the State (Pietro Porcelli was the first). During World War II he was employed as a camouflage officer with the Department of Home Security. In the postwar period his figurative style was no longer fashionable, but he continued to receive commissions from his major patron, the Catholic Church. His religious works are located throughout Australia, among them the beautiful 'Joseph the Carpenter and the Boy Jesus' (1949-50) at Corpus Christi College, Werribee, Victoria. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, and by the twins of his first marriage, Kohler died on 28 June 1964 in Perth and was buried with Anglican rites in Karrakatta cemetery.
Robyn Taylor, 'Kohler, Edward Frederick (1890–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kohler-edward-frederick-10759/text19075, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 2 September 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000