“Strength in Age: Ida Kohlmeyer, Acclaimed New Orleans Artist Hears Strong, New Message from the Muse, The Agin’ Cajun: A Journal for the Professional

Strength in Age: Ida Kohlmeyer 

Acclaimed New Orleans Artist Hears Strong, New Message from the Muse


Ida Kohlmeyer surrounded by her work

At her studio-home in old Metairie, energetic Ida Kohlmeyer creates monumentally successful sculpture and painting. In her youth (which she says lasted until her 75th birthday), the success was the plum she sought, as she strove “to be accepted, and to be acceptable.” Now, she seeks only to do her personal, not necessarily popular, best, and at 79 is receiving as much or more acclaim as ever before.

“I am conscious of being more of what I am. I am not a bit frightened to say what I feel, because the possible consequences don’t stagger me anymore. I wear what I want, say what I want, and do what I want,” she says.

Her vigorous spirit is not lost on others. Former LGEC Advisory Board Member Arthur Roger, the young owner of galleries in New Orleans and New York who has worked with Mrs. Kohlmeyer for nearly 10 years, says “Ida has life and youth that are ageless, and that is an inspiration to me. There is a need for us to redefine what it means to age, and Ida certainly has done that.”

Mrs. Kohlmeyer’s career has been one of dynamism. She was a student of Hans Hofmann, then she became the teacher, mentoring aspiring artists through painting and drawing classes at Tulane University for nearly 10 years. During most of her teaching career, her work was strongly influenced by her colleague Mark Rothko, who worked with her in New Orleans and attended her first New York opening. In 1983, she moved out of two dimensions and into three, when she was commissioned to do the five 40- to 45-foot painted sculptures that comprise Krewe of Poydras, now a downtown landmark. Her work is everywhere in New Orleans, it seems, from the stunning stained glass window at Touro Synagogue to the whimsical Aquatic Colonnade at the Aquarium of the Americas. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Societe Generale de Banque in Belgium, her creations appear in dozens of the world’s finest museums and private collections.

As she approaches 80, she is again experiencing a broadening of horizons, as an unexpected, fresh wind of change begins to reshape her work.

“Just the past six months I feel as though I’ve had a resurgence of creative juices and I can’t tell you why, because physically I’ve been at half-mast. Something new has come into the work and I can’t exactly tell you what that is … the easiest way to say it is that it’s a certain sort of simplification that strengthens the work, and I’m responding to it more than anyone else is … yet. I think maybe it’s a deeper understanding of the work itself. It’s almost as though I had not done the previous work and I’m looking at it with a stranger’s eye, and that’s very healthy.”

Health, for Mrs. Kohlmeyer, is very much attributable to love of creation, and love of family, which, she says, is her best creation. “How lucky can a girl be, to have two daughters and to have them both in New Orleans with their families.”

The Kohlmeyer family is indeed closely knit: older daughter Jane Lowentritt works full-time with Mrs. Kohlmeyer as her studio manager, and the younger daughter, social worker Jo Ellen Bezou, lives nearby. The family that inspires Mrs. Kohlmeyer is built on the sturdy bedrock of her 57-year marriage to wholesale grocery executive Hugh Kohlmeyer, who at 89 continues to act as consultant for Consolidated Co., formerly Gerde Newman. “I give 60% of the credit for what I do to Hugh,” she says. Another who has contributed greatly to her success is her assistant of 15 years, her “right hand,” Andrew Bascle. “My hand is not as steady as Andrew’s. I’ll paint it, but he’ll come through and finish it up, and he does a beautiful job,” she says.

Her hand may not be as steady as her young assistant’s, but her work blooms with a new strength born of a maturity of artistic insight. The new work, much of which is being done for an ambitious one-woman gallery exhibit in Seoul, Korea, in 1993, promises to express more than ever the artistic essence of Ida Kohlmeyer’s “Strength in Age.”