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Art exhibit showcases Misch Kohn’s 60-year printmaking career

Aug. 17, 2016

 An exhibition celebrating the life and legacy of Misch Kohn, a pioneer in American printmaking, opens November 11, in his hometown of Kokomo.

wood engraving

"Tiger," a wood engraving by Misch Kohn. | IMAGE COURTESY OF KOKOMO-HOWARD COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY

The IU Kokomo Art Gallery will host Misch Kohn: Beyond the Tradition, a display that will include works spanning his 60-year career, and features early creations unique to this exhibition. It commemorates the 100th anniversary of his birth, and begins with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11. The exhibition will run through mid-December.

"The thing that is amazing about his work is that it can be seen as a short course in American printmaking history," said Jo Farb Hernández, director/curator of the Thompson Gallery and professor at San Jose State University. A niece of Kohn’s, she is the foremost expert on his work, and is curator of the exhibition.

While many of the prints were included in a previous retrospective that traveled all over the country, "we were able to fill in this exhibition with some earlier work, from his student days in Indiana, which has never before been exhibited," she said.

The student work that inspired the exhibition was donated to IU Kokomo in 2013 by Kokomo’s Temple B’Nai Israel. Kohn’s family belonged to the temple, and his mother, Anna, gave the painting to the congregation.

"This exhibition includes prints from all of the different periods of his career," she said. "Sometimes artists find a style or imagery that works for them, and they stick with it their whole career. Misch wasn’t like that. He continuously explored. He was self-taught in just about every one of the printmaking media he explored. He really pushed the boundaries of those media, and was an amazing innovator. He is credited with reinvigorating American printmaking after World War II."

Kohn (1916-2003) grew up the son of Russian immigrants, in a large family in Kokomo. He began drawing at age 5, and took his first art lessons from a local teacher when he was 9.  A Kokomo doctor’s wife began teaching him oil painting when he was 13, and he enjoyed painting in local parks.

These experiences started him on the path to being a professional artist, Farb Hernández said. He began art school in 1934, during the Depression.

"On the basis of what he produced in Kokomo, he was able to secure a scholarship to the Herron Art Institute," she said. "For him to be able to do that, at that period in time, was remarkable."

His life changed forever during the last quarter of his final year at Herron, when the school brought in printmakers for a five-week class.

"Misch was immediately excited by the teachers, and totally entranced by the printmaking process," Farb Hernández said. "He spent the entire time those teachers were there in the print shop, working with them. It changed the direction of his life, and certainly the direction of his art."

Farb Hernández spent a great deal of time with Kohn when she was in high school, and later when she wrote the book about him to contextualize and interpret his work and complement this exhibition. She believes he would have been pleased to have an exhibition in his hometown honoring his centennial year.

"I think he would have just loved it, he would have been so proud and happy," she said, noting that he received an honorary doctorate from IU at IU Kokomo’s Commencement in 1991. "Even after all of the awards and prizes he received over the course of his long career, he was so honored and humbled by that award and the fact that he was recognized locally by people he had grown up with."

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