1892 – 1964
‘I have carved a tree in the Fitzroy Gardens for you…’
Gift of Ola Cohn, 1934
City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection
Ola Cohn was born and raised in Bendigo. It was in Queenscliff that she started modelling forms in the sand at the beach and later at school. When older and perfectionistic, she often remodelled her pieces into Grecian Gods and Goddesses.
When twelve years old she taught drawing on Saturday mornings at the School of Mines but was happiest in the modelling room where the instructor took her hand and suggested to his companions to ‘Look at this child’s hand, it is the hand of a sculptor.
Ola studied at Swinburne Technical College. She was awarded a scholarship to study under acclaimed sculptor Henry Moore at London’s Royal College of Art and exhibited widely in Britain and Europe.
Returning to Australia, she established a studio in Collins Street in 1931. In undertaking the Fairies Tree, Ola was inspired by Ivor Innes’ Elfin Oak, located in Kensington Gardens, London.
Commencing work on the Fairies Tree in 1931, she spent three years carving the ancient Red Gum using the trunk’s natural irregularities to inspire carvings of fairies, dwarfs, gnomes, imps, goblins, elves, and Australian animals. Upon completion in May 1934, the tree was gifted to the city’s children.
In 1977, the trunk was extracted from the ground for restoration and was mounted on a concrete base to preserve the work. It continues to get regular conservation treatment.
Ola Cohn was recognised with an OBE in 1965 for ‘Services rendered in the service of art, especially sculpture’.
This biography was provided by The City of Greater Bendigo Council
Stevens-Chambers, Brenda (2016) Celebrating Bendigo Women
Box Hill CAE (1947) Ola Cohn, Me in the Making, unpublished manuscript
Barbara Lemo (2104) A Way with the Fairies, Pub. RW Strugnell Melbourne
Photo – Ola Cohn with Mother Earth, 1926
Site: Bendigo Art Gallery