The Times-Picayune is marking the tricentennial of New Orleans with its ongoing 300 for 300 project, running through 2018 and highlighting 300 people who have made New Orleans New Orleans, featuring original artwork commissioned by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune with Where Y’Art gallery. Today: artist Ida Kohlmeyer.
The icon: Ida Kohlmeyer.
The legacy: Ida Kohlmeyer came late in life to her passion, enrolling in art school at Newcomb College in 1950 as a 37-year-old married mother of two. She would quickly make up for lost time, though, earning national recognition for her distinct abstract expressionist voice — with a fittingly jazzy flair — and becoming a leading figure on the New Orleans art scene for decades. Her most conspicuous public legacies in the Crescent City are the colorful “Krewe of Poydras” across the street from the Superdome, as well as a menagerie of stylized sea life outside the Aquarium of the Americas. Her real gift to her hometown, though, is in the number of artists she inspired — and continues to inspire — through her work.
The artist: Maddie Stratton, WhereYart.net.
The quote: “I suppose I looked like a perfect dilettante. Still, I think it’s hideous to see people give up living the life they want, to blame middle age or children and settle for much less than they are capable of.” — Ida Kohlmeyer, on her late-in-life entry into the art world, in a 1995 interview with The Times-Picayune
• Ida Rittenberg Kohlmeyer was born in 1912 in New Orleans, the daughter of Polish immigrants.
• In the 1950s, as her art career was getting started, she studied with major abstract expressionist artists including Hans Hoffman and Mark Rothko. She soon, however, found her own vibrant style, often featuring glyph-like symbols and described in 1997 by The Times-Picayune as being filled with “hot, discordant colors like those found on Carnival floats and shotgun houses in some of the city’s neighborhoods.”
• Between 1957 and her death in 1997, Kohlmeyer’s work was featured in more than 200 group and solo exhibitions and was collected by more than 40 museums, including the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.
• She continued working, and learning, right up until her death in 1997. “The last few years were hard on my mother,” her daughter, Jane Lowentritt, said at the time. “She lost her husband of 61 years and suffered a major injury to one eye, but she showed more stamina and bravery than anyone I know. She worked to the end and continued to grow as an artist.”
• In addition to becoming a role model for young artists in New Orleans, she became a teacher, at Newcomb from 1956 to 1965 and at the University of New Orleans from 1973 to 1975.
• “Her passion and skill affected everyone around her, whether you knew her as a gifted collector of African art, a committed rose gardener or an artist. She was even quite a golfer in the years before she began to paint,” sculptor Lyn [sic] Emery said.
• Kohlmeyer died in January 1997 of a heart attack. She was 84.
Source: The Times-Picayune archive