Ida Kohlmeyer (1912–1997) was a graduate of Newcomb College, wife, and mother of two when she began pursuing her artistic career. At the age of thirty-seven, she returned to Newcomb College to obtain a Master of Fine Arts degree, graduating in 1956 and studying under painting professor Pat Trivigno.
In the summer of 1956, Kohlmeyer traveled to Provincetown, Massachusetts to study in the studio of Hans Hofmann, who played a critical role in the development of the Abstract Expressionist style. Kohlmeyer, who had been introduced to the rising Abstract Expressionist movement while at school, readily sought the chance to study with one of its founding members. Kohlmeyer then traveled to Europe where she met Joan Miro, whose surrealism and abstract style she admired. Returning to New Orleans, Kohlmeyer accepted a position on the faculty of Newcomb College, where she taught until 1965. In 1957, just after her return from Europe, Kohlmeyer befriended Mark Rothko, a protege of Hofmann and fellow Abstract Expressionist who had been invited to Newcomb College as a visiting professor. Ida Kohlmeyer was stylistically influenced by the work of each of these legendary artists, drawing inspiration from them in her early paintings. It was not until some years later that she would alight on her own distinct style.
Kohlmeyer’s new path produced a vocabulary of symbols including X’s, hearts, wheels, arrows, circles, and fruit-like shapes. Her personlized iconography was inspired by the energy of the objects, shapes, and colors she encountered in her daily life. These symbols, though visually reminiscent of hieroglyphic and cuneiform writing, were simply Kohlmeyer’s own personal expression. Of her style, she said, “…the more you work, the more change is likely. You can’t go on imitating yourself forever!”
In her mature career, Kohlmeyer began creating sculpture as well. These three-dimensional forms relied on the same vocabulary of symbols as her two-dimensional works, but in a new and distinct way. Kohlmeyer’s artistic style was ever-evolving, but always retained the calling card of its creator. Kohlmeyer found great success in Louisiana and beyond. In a 1981 interview she noted, “If you have (an urge to work), if you are willing to use yourself up working, then the North will find you in the South,” indicating that success can be found anywhere if one will dedicated themselves wholly to attaining it.
Ida Kohlmeyer, Composite 88-1, c. 1990. Mixed media on canvas, 79 1/2 x 68 1/2 inches. Gift of the Ida and Hugh Kohlmeyer Foundation. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 2009.001.001
Similarly to Fritz Bultman, Kohlmeyer maintained relationships with and drew inspiration from famous Abstract Expressionists, including the renowned Hans Hoffman.