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Carola (Ola) Cohn (1892–1964)

by Ken Scarlett

This article was published:

Carola (Ola) Cohn (1892-1964), sculptor, was born on 25 April 1892 at Bendigo, Victoria, daughter of Julius Cohn, a brewer of Danish origin, and his wife Sarah Helen, née Snowball. After schooling from the age of 12 at Girton College, Bendigo, she attended art classes at the Bendigo School of Mines in 1910-19 and in 1920-25 studied at Swinburne Technical College, Melbourne. In 1926 she went to London and attended the Royal College of Art where her lecturers included Henry Moore for sculpture. She enrolled in night classes in bronze casting at the School of Arts and Crafts, studied Egyptian, Assyrian and archaic Greek sculpture at the British Museum and travelled in Europe. In 1928 she was awarded a Royal College of Art free studentship; in 1929 she became an associate of the Royal College of Art.

Influenced in London by Moore, Ola Cohn produced sculpture in stone, wood, terracotta and bronze in which the human form was reduced to very simple masses, seen in terms of the materials used. 'Head of a Virgin' (1926), now in the National Gallery of Victoria, was considered very modern in Australia at the time. On her return to Melbourne in late 1930 she set up a studio at 9 Collins Street, later moving to Gipps Street, East Melbourne. In March 1931 her first one-person exhibition established her as a leading modern sculptor in Australia; however, after the mid-1940s her work grew less experimental. In 1938 she produced two seven-foot (2.1 m) sandstone figures for the new Royal Hobart Hospital. Next year she executed nineteen panels for the Mutual Life and Citizens building in Sydney (fourteen were designed by Murray Griffin) and in 1940-41 carved the limestone Pioneer Woman memorial statue, Adelaide.

Briefly in 1933 Ola Cohn taught art at Geelong Church of England Grammar School. She was part-time lecturer in art at the Melbourne Kindergarten Teachers' College from about 1940 until 1954. In 1948 she won the Roman Catholic Diocesan Centenary Prize in Melbourne and in 1952 the Crouch Prize—the first time it had been won by a sculptor—for a wood carving. In 1964 she was appointed O.B.E. for 'services rendered in the service of art, especially sculpture'.

Ola Cohn exhibited her work frequently in group shows held by the societies of which she was a member. These included the Victorian Artists' and Australian Sculptors' societies, the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors (of which she was president in 1948-64), the Victorian Sculptors' Society and Melbourne Contemporary Artists. She also exhibited with the Society of Artists, Adelaide. Her work is widely represented in public collections in Australia.

Ola Cohn loved animals and kept a variety of pets. Her 'Fairies' Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, was inspired by the Elfin Tree in London's Kensington Gardens. She wrote stories around the characters that she had carved on the tree stump, publishing The Fairies' Tree (1932), More about the Fairies' Tree (1933) and Castles in the Air (1936). Her reminiscences, Mostly Cats, appeared in 1964 while her manuscript 'Me in the making' (c.1941-48) is held in the La Trobe Library, Melbourne.

On 6 May 1953 with Presbyterian forms Ola Cohn married Herbert John Green, retired government printer, who died in 1957. On her death at Cowes on 23 December 1964 she left an estate valued for probate at £85,787. Her studio and a collection of her works were bequeathed to the Council of Adult Education.

Select Bibliography

  • Woman's World, 1 Apr 1926
  • Manuscripts (Geelong), Nov 1931
  • Art in Australia, 15 Aug 1932
  • Australian Home Beautiful, 1 Sept 1939
  • People (Sydney), 22 July 1959
  • Herald (Melbourne), 16 Mar 1931
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 July 1952, 24 Dec 1964
  • O. Cohn papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ken Scarlett, 'Cohn, Carola (Ola) (1892–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 April, 1892
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia


23 December, 1964 (aged 72)
Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

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