In art one is usually totally alone with oneself
Paula Modersohn-Becker, in Gillian Perry’s Paula Modersohn-Becker (1979)

Photo of Adele


Upstairs, Downstairs in The Great Depression
If much art springs from a traumatic or neglected childhood, then Adele Cohen might
dispel the notion of suffering as a prerequisite to creativity. “Angst is not a stimulant to creativity,” she once told her friend, artist Mary Hart, “so I don’t think suffering helps. It’s just a drag.  If you got ‘it’ you’re going to do it.” As an adult, Cohen did experience physical and family-related setbacks, but firmly held on to the belief that she was in complete control of her life-choices and emotions throughout her long career.  

Cohen never had the time or patience for adversity.  Consistently undaunted, she let her work play out triumphantly through whatever misfortunes fate had in store for her.

Born in 1922 as the only child of modestly secure and loving parents, Teddy and Etta Rieger, she was, by all accounts, equally adored by relatives sharing the same two-flat house on Buffalo’s East Side in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Norma Kirschenbaum, one of two downstairs cousins of Cohen’s whose father was Teddy’s brother, recalls total family harmony in good times and in Depression-era bad times. “We were all very close in that shared house,” she reflects, “and we constantly borrowed food from one another, calling up and down.”   

Estelle Rutstein, Kirschenbaum’s older sister, remembers nothing unusual about Adele’s childhood. “We were happy, we helped one another,” she said, “and we did everything together.  It was an average family in a typical neighborhood.  We did things in those days that people don’t do today, like canning, listening to the radio, and sharing laundry chores by pushing wet clothing through a wringer!  We did a lot of baking together and neighborhood women would pick up the smell and come over for coffee.  It was a wonderful family life, and a good house.  I would say that Adele had a very happy upbringing.”  

Another Cohen cousin, Saul Siegel, remembers a somewhat different environment.  “I don’t know how ‘happy’ they were,” he said, “but it seemed like a normal family.  In those days, parents were survivors, through the Depression, through immigration, through prejudice; through all of those things. There wasn’t a lot of interest in anything besides that, so there was not a hell of a lot of interaction between parents and children, like my generation.  My parent’s interest in life was to survive.  I think pretty much Etta and Teddy were like that, too.”

It no doubt helped that Etta’s parents also lived with them, and they doted on the young girls. Often, they would take them to the Emblem Theater on Saturday afternoons for movies and treats; cherished events for youngsters.

There was no money in the Cohen household, of course, for frivolous clothing or cosmetic luxuries, even if the thought had occurred to Etta, which it probably did not, given her frugality. In any event, Adele had no access to Cinderella’s magic; she was not the one going out on the town.  

Mrs. Siegel’s Cinderella fairy tale analogy was not the mirror image of Adele’s childhood, in terms of good and bad looks because the attractive girl in the fable was Cinderella and not her sisters.  Reminded that Cohen was considered attractive, even pretty, by most people Mrs. Siegel replied, “As she grew older, she was stunning.  I mean, you wouldn’t call her pretty; she was stunning.  The way she carried herself was part of it -- she had a swish about her.”            

“Adele was not a happy child. I think some of Adele’s inner feelings came out in her paintings.  You can see the hidden heart in some of her early work.  I have some of them: black paintings with blue-purple pigments coming through the black.  The left side is all white, like she’s trying to clear the black clouds away and come into some daylight.  You have to understand the origin for her feelings, how her paintings were affected by how she was feeling.  She had a lot of sadness in her art and in her young life that she had to cope with.”

One reason you are stricken when your parents die is that the audience you’ve been aiming at all your life -- shocking it, pleasing it -- has suddenly left the theater.
Katherine Whitehorn, in The Observer (1983)

Chapeaus, Cigarettes and Maternal Feminism

Teddy, Adele’s father, sold custom-made hats and trimmings on the road for Siegel Brothers Hats, the family business that his wife’s brothers created.  The firm managed to stay afloat during the Depression and in-law Teddy was the go-to guy selling the felt hats on the road, with limited success.  In that period in America’s fashion life, all men wore felt hats and the manufacturing competition was fierce. Handsome and gregarious, he was fond of telling stories and jokes around the family household, especially semi-ribald tales of a world his family would never know. The punch lines usually ended in Yiddish to protect younger members of the family.  

“He was a born salesman,” Kirschenbaum recounts, and seemed to be successful.” Saul Siegel, however, recalls Teddy as “a marginal guy -- he had a hard time making a living, but he had a good eye for the ladies.” He describes most Siegel family members as “dour.”  “This was their personality,” he states, “fairly direct and abrupt, not given to small talk.  They were very straight people; no subtleties.  They let you know what they thought and the hell with the consequences.  Teddy Rieger, on the other hand, was just the opposite: a ‘hail fellow well met,’ full of good humor and he had a great knack for story-telling.”   

“Adele really adored her father,” Arlene Siegel states.  “She would talk about her dad endlessly and her eyes would light up and glitter.  He was very kind to her.  He was
never a tremendous money-maker but he was kind and sweet.”

Etta was steadfast, reserved and often given to long walks and spa visits with her sisters and mother, serving to combat ever-encroaching weight gains from the steaming, bountiful kitchens, upstairs and down.  Saul Siegel calls this family health union “a kind of cabal, of sorts” and some of the excursions occurred at the famous “fat farm” in Danville, New York, owned by health guru Bernard McFadden. Etta was a good cook, as were all the Siegel’s; perhaps too good. Etta, however, also had a keen interest in health foods to complement her love of walking.  “They were all interested in losing weight,” recalls Saul Siegel.

Enchanted childhood or unhappy child, Adele Cohen was carefully and protectively raised by caring parents in a challenging time in America’s stormy history, innocently growing up in a nation at war with itself fighting the Great Depression, poverty, disease, racial prejudice, Fascism, labor struggles -- all sandwiched between two devastating world wars.  

Ultimately, there was nothing about Cohen’s childhood -- as described by Rutstein and Kirschenbaum -- that separated her from the average American youngster.  She filled family scrapbooks with warm memories; a pictorial American Dream of closely-knit relatives sitting snugly around the fireside listening to father’s stories that ascended, like the phoenix, from America’s wounded ashes.  

One fact is clear: Adele Cohen prepared no one, in or out of her family, for a lifetime of art that exhibited profound and often disturbing images of human and natural conditions. For Adele Cohen, the real hardships would come later and she would manage them just as skillfully as she wove the duality of art and family into a fulfilling life.

Everybody is influenced by someone or something.  If there’s an original, who is the original?
Ernestine Anderson, in Brian Lanker, I Dream a World  (1989)

Mrs. Weyfenbach Arrives   
Cohen’s unexceptional childhood was marked by what one relative refers to as “Adele having a good public education, such as existed in those days.”  According to relatives, few family members were cognizant of any particular Cohen artistic potential while she attended Hamlin Park School #74, in Buffalo.  At age 10, however, she began her first formal art classes at the Albright Art Gallery, so it appears that someone in her family, probably her mother, recognized her potential.  

Later, Cohen was earmarked for Masten High School, the closest school to the Rieger household and therefore the most logical secondary school . The family decided she
should instead attend Lafayette High School because it was in a better neighborhood
than Masten and considered to be, at least by parental standards, a superior school.  “Our parents didn’t like the idea of Masten,” Kirshenbaum said, “so we attended Lafayette. The family had to pay tuition, though it wasn’t much.”  But the important reason for attending Lafayette, according to Tina, Cohen’s daughter, was the reputation of a particular art teacher.

In childhood, there can be a standout person who bears a tremendous influence on a child’s psyche which can last a lifetime, a seminal model for a youngster to look up to and be influenced by for years to come.  For Cohen, this person was Mrs. Weyfenbach, “the best high school art teacher in the area,” according to Norma Kirschenbaum, an artist who was also a devoted student of Weyfenbach’s at Lafayette.  This was a teacher who could possibly chart the course of one’s life, especially if that person is an aspiring artist.  
“When we were little kids,” Kirschenbach relates, “Adele was not that interested in art. But in later years, when she began to take art classes, that all changed.  We had wonderful teachers and they were very interested in the children; they made artists out
of all of us!  In those days it wasn’t like it is now.  Today, kids don’t even have art in schools.  Mrs. Weyfenbach was a wonderful teacher.  So, I imagine that she was very influential with Adele.  She spent a lot of time with us and could really recognize talent.”

“When a teacher saw something good, they worked with us.  Mrs. Weyfenbach kept us after school to help us, if she recognized ‘something.’  That’s the kind of teacher she was. She’d say, ‘Wait, wait -- I want to talk to you after school!’  Then, she would go over some pointers with you, look at your work and tell you if it’s good, or going to be good, or whatever.  And I think it’s very true that Mrs. Weyfenbach had a very direct and positive affect on Adele’s art.”  

Cohen graduated from Lafayette in 1939.  After high school, at age 18, on a scholarship, she attended the Parsons School of Design in New York City.  Art school was not a new venture for Cohen.  Besides classes at the Albright Art Gallery when she was very young, as a secondary student she also attended classes at the Art Institute of Buffalo, a practice she continued after graduation from high school. A highly-regarded, informal setting for gifted artists, it was, in its own words, dedicated to “the proposition that art is the province of everyone” and advocated non-competitive, non-discriminative participation. It was also affordable. The distinguished instructors included longtime Director William Rowe, Charles Burchfield, Edwin Dickinson, Robert Blair, Don Burns, and Isaac Soyer.

In New York, Cohen lived in a small one-room dwelling on West 93rd and Riverside Drive with roommate Arlene Grossman.  Their many friends, some from Buffalo, included Edna Pigeon, daughter of the Hollywood actor, Walter.  Cohen was pleased
to pass on the 60 year old gossip to daughter Tina that Arlene slept with her boyfriend in their tiny room, “but later she did marry him!”            
Cohen stayed at Parsons for only one year.  It is not clear why she left -- the probability was inadequate financial resources -- but she seemed restless.  In 1941, she went to California.  Saul Siegel: “I had the impression that Adele did what she wanted to do.  It didn’t require a lot of support from anyone; nor did she receive a lot of support, necessarily.  She just decided one day she was going to do something, and she did it!  I don’t think her parents fully understood the art piece; I think Adele just went off and did what she wanted to do.”

Work in California was interesting, but not fulfilling for Cohen who now desired a higher level of artistic endeavor.  Her stay in Los Angeles was uneventful.   While there, she worked at The Design Studio that was connected with the Walt Disney Fantasia Film Studio.  The woman owner was “a taskmaster,” according to Tina Cohen, “and had her making mushroom sculptures.”  The mushrooms, of course, were used for the famous film, “Fantasia.”

Dried peas and beans, being rather on the dull side, much like dull people respond readily to the right contacts.
Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, The Joy of Cooking (1931)

War, Baking and the American Dream
Cohen moved to San Francisco after the Los Angeles venture, but in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, a somewhat apprehensive Etta came to California, by train, to rescue her daughter from possible future Japanese invasions; not an uncommon parental concern at the time.  Cohen repeatedly told her mother not to come, but to no avail.  Etta, who often operated in mysterious ways, landed in Reno, snowbound for two days and with no contact with her daughter, who began to have her own apprehensions about her mother’s safety.  According to Tina, quoting her mother, Etta did not call Cohen because “she was too cheap.”  

Etta finally arrived in San Francisco, unannounced, whisking her daughter out of harm’s way to Laguna Beach, where they relaxed for a week before Etta returned to the East Coast.  

Soon after, in the same year, Cohen returned to Buffalo.  The war effort on the home front was buzzing with activity, and Cohen found employment at the Trico plant assembling automobile windshield wipers.  She remained there until the end of the war and later worked at Hens & Kelly, the department store, doing commercial art in their advertising department.  At this same time, she also studied at the Albright Art School.  
Before the war ended, in 1943, she married Paul Cohen, whom she had known from high school.  Until that time, she remained in her parents’ household.  Paul was in the United States Army and they lived in Texas and Louisiana except when, as an Army cook, he was transferred to Okinawa.  

Paul was outgoing and humorous, similar in personality to Cohen’s father, Teddy, and like him, admired by everyone.  In later years, while owning and operating the family business he inherited from his father (“Al Cohen’s Rye Bread Bakery”) he would pursue an amateur career in stage acting, and appeared in many theatrical productions in Western New York including some with his son, Henry.  

The Army years were happy ones for the newly-weds and, when Paul was able to stay stateside, they lived together near various camps in the South.  Even then, Paul was adept at baking, albeit exclusively in large quantities, no doubt due to his young commercial experiences working at his father’s bakery.  

Cohen recalls her husband returning home from daily camp duty.  “To relax,” she stated, “he liked to bake.  But he only knew how to bake large amounts of bread or coffee cake, on a great big baker’s tray!”  Apparently, Paul did not know how to reduce the recipe sizes for family consumption.  Mrs. Rutstein recalls, “They had to pass the bread and coffee cakes around the neighborhood!  All the Cohen’s were bakers,” she said, “but I can’t eat most of those things anymore.  Adele was an excellent gourmet cook and baker, too, and she had the same problems later in life.”

The Cohen’s returned to Buffalo in 1946.  Paul went back to work for his father and they spent most of the post-war period adjusting, as most everyone did at that time, with new homes, children, and a different way of life in a rejuvenated country.  A new world with opportunities, both in the business and art worlds, awaited them.  Their children, Henry and Tina, were born in 1949 and 1951, respectively, and the family picture, with all the hopeful signs of success, was complete.  Now it was time for Adele to quit work and become both a mother and an artist.  Paul would inherit the business and another American Dream was taking hold in a victorious and confident America.

But less than three decades later, in 1975, Paul would succumb to complications from
brain surgery. Symptoms of his illness began to surface in the late 1950’s and he underwent his first brain operation in 1959. Little did Cohen know that Paul’s long-term ailment and early fatality would play a major role in her life and in her art.

Cohen also suffered serious illnesses throughout her life, beginning in the 1950’s, which included breast cancer and liver complications.  The post-WW II American Dream would eventually be over, as the reality of family sickness held a firm shadow on the Cohen household.  

But nothing would stop Cohen, even family adversity.  The artistic momentum was rolling, far ahead of anyone’s expectations, including Cohen’s.


And I saw darkness for weeks.  It never dawned on me that I could come out of it, but you heal.  Nature heals you, and you do come out of it.  All of a sudden I saw a crack of light...then all of a sudden I saw another crack of light.  Then I saw forms in the light. And I recognized that there was no darkness, that in darkness there’ll always be light.
Louise Nevelson, Dawns + Dusks (1976)

Fighting the Wave with Darkness: A Woman Emerges
The art world in mid-century America turned its eyes toward a band of maverick artists called the Abstract Expressionists, or “action painters.”  There were many women in the spotlight but none reached the prominence of artists such as Jackson Pollack, Franz Klein, or Robert Motherwell.  

“Maybe that was like asking women for slam dunks,” Ben Perrone observes of the era,
“because it was physically hard for women to paint ‘the big one,’ and harder still to play the colorful ‘romantic’ or ‘tragic’ figures that men played with machismo so easily.  The big noise still gets more attention; it’s a physical survival gift that shouldn’t be applied to the arts, which require thought and sensitivity.”    

Some, like Philip Guston, actually had quiet painterly techniques, but no matter; they all splashed their divergent styles from New York City to all corners of the globe.  It was a dynamic force that dramatically and successfully challenged European leadership in the visual arts, coupled with an opportunistic army of museum operators, gallery owners and agents eager to ride the wave, as the commodity was monetarily skyrocketing overnight.  

In this setting, the visual arts ascended to new heights in Buffalo.  It had a long and
illustrious history, as finely documented in Susan Krane’s 1987 book, “The Wayward Muse: A Historical Survey of Painting in Buffalo,” but the 50’s movement had a special feel to it.  Now it began to surface, not only in museums and galleries but in universities, banks, coffee houses, restaurants, homes, even the streets.  

Art was in the air, though it was true that no local artist was getting rich unless he or she had important gallery connections in New York City.  And, as far as the general public was concerned the local Allentown Art Festival was more to their liking and they didn’t have to be intimidated by walking into the Albright-Knox. They could just walk up the street, because the annual Allentown Festival, like all good festivals, was outdoors!

Many artists, male and female, came to the forefront in the 1950’s, some from the academic field (Susan Krane: “all equally accomplished as artists and educators”), others from all walks of the Western New York artistic landscape.  The list of names is a Who’s Who of mid-century regional artists who made a dramatic impact on the cultural life of the area.   

In this creative environment Adele Cohen quietly but tenaciously attempted to put her ideas into a cohesive aesthetic vision.  The abstract influence was strong, and Cohen began delving into this exciting new artistic arena, finally eschewing portraiture. The beginning was awkward, both physically and artistically.  When the Cohen’s moved into their Burbank Drive house in Snyder, in suburban Buffalo, the tiny and cramped attic space there became her studio, as she further ventured into a style reflecting the abstract expressionist “wave.” Before long, Franz Klein-like imagery began to surface on the easels and there was no turning back. Eventually, she soon converted the Burbank Drive garage into an attractive and workable studio and by that time she was deep into her private apocalyptic vision that was anything but Abstract Expressionism.

“Although ‘influenced’ by that Abstract Expressionist movement,” Perrone explains, “Adele had already developed her own unique way of expressing herself.” One breakthrough 1951 oil study, Newsboy, for example, became a turning point in Cohen’s early development.  In vivid black and red, with strong brush strokes reminiscent of French painter Georges Rouault, the work portrayed a young boy hawking the heavy news of the day from the shoulder of his small, overburdened frame. It is a singularly unique and powerful work.

Ironically, in subsequent years, Cohen was known for the quality of her exquisite drawings which permeated almost all of her artwork.  

Cohen’s early ventures into non-representational work had enigmatic overtones.  The paintings, as she matured, were far removed Abstract Expressionism, although the work was referenced to that movement by some critics.  For one, they were not wholly abstract and those that were, she revealed to artist and curator Ethel Moore, had preplanned drawings beneath the painted surfaces that preclude the notion of spontaneous “action” paintings.
Cohen’s bold but ominous paintings of the 1950’s displayed a new and superb technical finesse. The early works in this cycle produced dark and brooding colors, coupled with often menacing imagery.  Like Klein’s work, large swaths of black paint seemed to dominate almost every canvas.  But there the comparison ends. There were stormy skies, fire, stunted figures with extended appendages, ghostly tree shapes with voyeuristic moons peeking through branches, highly charged red sexual vortexes, and large, brooding eyes with dark pensive eyebrows.  The work encompassed deep and mysterious forces that often drew from personal or worldly concerns.

Cohen had perhaps found her lifetime artistic oeuvre, but what to make of it was a Herculean exercise that challenged most of the astute art critics, to say nothing of the general art public.  These were emotive, confrontational paintings and few viewers seemed to know how to interpret them -- a Cohen legacy to this day.     

The paintings in the late 50’s were perhaps Cohen’s most formidable early statement in art, more abstract, evoking a more reflective aura in oils with titles such as Earthscape Series, Center of This Sinful Earth, I thought I Saw Eternity, and From Within My Mountain.  She began to temper her black paint with beige, deep umber and even white surfaces, incorporating new techniques into her work, such as college, with measured but skillfully applied textures.  One painting, Coronado, was rustic gold throughout, but the dripping, blazing Southwest sun almost obliterated any feeling of temporal relief.  
The paintings had a profound depth of feeling and a private, riveting and poignant spirit.
At this juncture in Cohen’s early career, challenges were enormous. Paul was diagnosed with a severe brain ailment and it became increasingly evident that a direct link existed between mortality and art, personal or universal, in much of Cohen’s artistic milieu.  

Artist Ben Perrone recalls being “repelled” by Cohen’s Earthscape Series from this period.   “There was maturity in her work that was beyond me,” he states, “and, looking back, I think this was her first great individual performance. They were so abstract and subtle that they were easily overlooked.  Had she done them as very large pieces they would have been overwhelming.”  
Comparing Cohen with her abstract expressionist contemporaries, (Perrone among them) Perrone describes her work at the time as “ dark, in an era of color, flash and bigness. It was a display of the intensity of her individuality.  I don’t know the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ about Adele’s darkness.  It wasn’t expressed in any other way.  It was a special reserve, like some aged bourbon that she was able to swim in when she painted.  A real but unappreciated gift like to communicate with God.  She went into that reserve and exhausted it as much as she could, and later in life she was left with the celebration of other themes.”
“We, her contemporaries,” Perrone said, “were hugely influenced by the abstract movement but she was ahead of influences and was deeply probing her own consciousness.  She was able to use this dark energy, extrapolating it from her mysterious and Zen-like psychic landscape.  The rest of us, on the other hand, thought that abstract expressionism had opened the door to artistic expression.  It freed us from the dance steps so we could invent our own.  The 50’s and 60’s were the personification of freedom. That was the feeling of the time -- a kind of ecstasy of mind and body.”  

Cohen saw it differently.  She led a controlled, measured life and her feelings were inward.  “The eye and psyche are seduced by bright color relating it to positive feelings,” she wrote, “though it is often used to cover the lack of content and construction.  Truth is more important as life is short, and art is forever.  As an artist, I believe there is an obligation to touch people’s emotions.  To be pleasing is not enough either in life or art. In art, form and color do not always please.  In life, relationships are delineated by their light and shadows.  To be true to ourselves we must embrace the shadow part of our relationships and in so doing find the beauty within the dark.”  

In the 1950’s, Cohen participated in several group exhibitions and competitions in
New York City; Paris; Buffalo; Chautauqua, New York; Bloomfield, New Jersey; and New Canaan, Connecticut where she received numerous awards and accolades.  Her  first one-person exhibition was held at the Coffee Encores Gallery in Buffalo, in 1956, and again at the same gallery in 1957.  Her first New York City solo exhibitions were held at the Panoras Gallery and Ahda Artzr Gallery, in 1957 and 1959, respectively.   
During this formative artistic period Cohen’s work -- alongside that of noted Buffalo artists Martha Visser’t Hooft, Dorothy Shea, Shirley Kassman and others -- provided a compelling vitality and counterpoint to Buffalo’s strong fraternity of male artists, including Seymour Drumlevitch, Gene Vass, Peter Busa and a host of others.  The collective work of both artistic groups helped form and define the Buffalo art community for the second half of the 20th century.

Cohen heard her calling; she was not to be denied.
The artist, like the God of the Creation, remains within or behind or beyond his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, paring his fingernails.
James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Frenzied Festival, More War, and Illness
Buffalo’s newly-found fever for the arts continued in the 1960’s with bustling activity everywhere.  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Lucas Foss introduced
the city to contemporary music with the formation of the Creative Associates Program at the University of Buffalo, and exciting new musical compositions were presented by the BPO in venues throughout the city.  

In 1965, Foss invited musicians and composers from all over the world to join in a city-wide celebration of the arts, showcased at Kleinhans Music Hall, the University, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which hosted a special ground-breaking exhibition of optic and kinetic art.  The avant-garde Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today made national headlines.  Illustrious writers, composers and visual artists invaded the faculties of U.B. and Buffalo State College; theaters and small dance companies flourished with avant-guard productions; and jazz and poetry readings were offered in clubs and coffeehouses throughout the city.  It appeared everyone in the contemporary art fields “shuffled off to Buffalo.” Simultaneously, Cohen, Perrone, Wes Olmsted, and Martha Visser’t Hooft  
converted an elegant, but empty, Delaware Avenue home into an exhibition of their work, and billed it as the Festival’s “Other Gallery.” The Festival was repeated in 1968.

Hugh Levick, husband of Cohen’s cousin, Melba, summed up the excitement: “The 1960’s found Buffalo an amazing hub of creative expression.  It was an era that was an attempt on the part of artists, in all disciplines, to keep the world human.  The mind set of those who began practicing art in that decade envisioned unlimited possibility of expression and meaning.  They were in the lineage of the movement which, beginning with the 19th century Romantics, had carried experimentation forward through the early 20th century.”  

Levick was careful to add that the creative activity in Buffalo was taking place during
the 60’s struggles: the dehumanizing effects of the Viet Nam War, the senseless continuation of the Cold War, political assassinations and social injustice.

Many of Cohen’s themes in this decade focused on references to the war, atrocities, catastrophes, the bible, female sexuality and, most poetically, on her personal vision of the human condition.  Part of the latter focus may be attributed to her husband’s operation to open up the passage of spinal fluid to the brain.  Early symptoms included, according to Cohen’s son Henry, “Dad sleeping in a standing position.”

Lynne Kramer produced plays, taught theater classes at Buffalo State College, and was also active in the visual art community as promoter and entrepreneur.  She met Adele Cohen through theater director Neil du Brock and Buffalo State College professor Hank Mann, who were friends of Paul Cohen.  “I don’t know how they knew Paul but, you know, Paul used to deliver bread to everyone!”  He wanted to act, which was his great ambition.  I said, ‘Well, fine, but we don’t have a theater -- where are we going to do it?’ That’s how the Theater in the Square began, at the Jewish Community Center.  “It was his money that built the theater,” Kramer exclaims, “so he had a right to act in it!  I loved him, but he was the worst actor you could ever imagine.  What Paul had was a wonderful sense of humor and a great sense of living a spirited life.”  

Kramer recalls the time of Paul’s illness:  “Paul stayed sick for some time,” she said, “and he was very young when it happened.  But somehow he managed to resume his acting stints in Western New York theaters.  

“The bakery, successful as it was, had tremendous competition from Kaufmann’s Bakery,” Arlene Siegel recalls.  “How Paul ever found time to be an actor I’ll never figure out!”  Siegel disagrees with Kramer's assessment of Paul’s theatrical skills.  “He was hysterically funny as an actor,” she said.

“Paul’s sickness was a difficult time for Adele,” Kramer said, “an emotional drain on all of her insides, which nobody really knew.  I knew because I sensed it and I felt it and I understood the kind of person she was.  But I don’t know how many other people cared, besides Ben Perrone.  If it weren’t for him,” Kramer concludes, “I don’t think she would have been able to continue as she did.  Ben was a wonderful companion and friend.  He saved her life.”

Arlene Siegel remembers a period of struggle.  “She was really trying,” she said, “and she had so many pots on the fire at the same time.  I don’t know how she did it all.  She was raising two children, she had a sick husband, and she was painting all at the same time.  It was difficult, but she persevered.  She bit the straw and held onto it for dear life because I think that was her salvation.  If she didn’t have painting, I don’t know -- other than her children -- what she would have done.  I mean, take to drink, or pot -- or whatever!”  
“The children were very young when Ben used to come to the house,” Arlene Siegel recalls, “and of course that scandalized the neighborhood.  But, you know, Adele didn’t care.  I mean, she had to have a life of her own.  And my husband and I understood that. But some of our other friends did not.  They thought she was very bohemian.  And she looked that way.”  

Siegel, who recalls Paul as being “very bright,” said, “I always thought when Paul took
ill it was a tremendous strain on her. I don’t think the children had the complete concept of what Adele went through.  But they were raised with a firm hand; there was no nonsense involved.  When she told her son Henry to jump, he jumped and didn’t balk! They had to behave because she had things to do; she had to take care of Paul.  In a way, she always had to because she was mother and father.”

“I think a lot of Adele’s spirit of independence came from her mother, as well as the firmness,” Siegel recalls.  “People just didn’t quite understand Adele early on,” she argues, “or take the time to comprehend the situation she was in.  She could be cryptic, sarcastic, and even judgmental.  All those characteristics, of course, were from her mother and I think we don’t realize it when we’re going through it that we’re doing what our mothers were doing -- and we would hate it if we were told that!  You know, ‘Oh, you’re just like your mother.’  I mean, when somebody says that to me now, I cringe.  So, at that early age it must have been difficult for Adele.”

The Cohen children apparently did not feel a traumatic impact around the household. Life went on as if normal and son Henry remarked that his father’s illness went on for so long that “it seemed like an ordinary life.”  “My dad went to work almost very day,” he states, “came home late at night, went to sleep and woke up early the next morning to go back to work again.  The only time I saw anything different, or unusual, was near the end when he would often talk to me as a child and adult, alternately.”  

“Our dad,” Henry said, “had other horrible things happen to him after the brain illness. He had his thyroid removed and three years after that a bread rack fell on him at work, shattering his leg -- and he never recovered from that!  But with all of this, I still maintain that it did not adversely affect the family.  How upsetting can things be when, after his brain problem but before he hurt his leg, my father’s favorite sport was bowling!  We acted in two plays together, for God’s sake!”

One of Adele Cohen’s favorite quotes is from Gustave Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent (forceful) and original in your work.”  Cohen, who strived for a normal existence, realized that goal would never happen without some domestic control on Burbank Drive.  She seemed to have a magic wand in regulating the family with such things as perfect table manners, while simultaneously allowing the children the freedom to make their own life choices.  

Cohen once reflected on the home scene: “An organized schedule is an answer,” she wrote, “but there needs to be a flexibility that can incorporate my needs and the needs
of those I’m responsible for.  In my hands are the lives of four people.  Things I want and must do to fulfill my needs require decisions that are frightening.  I think about them when I write.  Wrong decisions have to be ‘righted,’ so I must list my needs in an order that will be the basis of my decisions.”  “I will put the children before their father,” she laments, “not out of lack of love but because of what I know about his illness.  They must become whole, mature, human beings.  They must know that each day requires new decisions (that may require changes from previous ones).  Black becomes gray as times change; no one has all the answers.”
The children reciprocated in this moving Cohen vignette, excerpted from a Cohen interview in the magazine, Lilith: “I told them (the children) I do certain things, and they respected it.  When the studio was in the house, my children never went across the threshold.  They never bothered me with demands of any sort.  When it comes to taking care of people, you do what has to be done.  In that sense, the kids were not a demand. They were a responsibility and it didn’t matter if I was an artist or a ditch digger.”  When asked by the interviewer if this crosses the grain, when society seems to suggest that children who grow up with mothers like Cohen are eternally messed up, she replied, “So far, they are extremely well adjusted.” Today, her daughter Tina disagrees with this assessment.  

Art tells the only truth that ultimately matters...and after art there is, let me assure you all, nothing.  Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince (1973)

Your Show of Shows
Meanwhile, in Buffalo’s art world, the energy from the 1950’s was still spilling over to the 60’s with relentless vigor.  Local artists still clamored for attention, as they did the previous decade, at the popular Western New York show at the newly-named Albright-Knox Art Gallery, secure in its position as one of the nation’s leading innovative museums for American contemporary art.  

For a local artist, acceptance into the annual Western New York Art Exhibition at the Albright Art Gallery, juried by national art figures, was synonymous with winning the Olympic triathlon.  These annual exhibitions formed the supreme ornament of art life in W.N.Y., and it did not go unnoticed by the art community that young, anti-establishment painters Jack Drummer and Wes Olmsted took the top prizes in the 1959 show and, as a result, were awarded a two-man exhibition at the Albright the following summer!  
Judges for the W.N.Y. competitions always featured, in those days, prominent art celebrities. Names such as curators Gordon Washburn and Dorothy Miller, and artists
Hans Hoffman, Stuart Davis and Philip Guston were typical, arbitrating visitors.  It lent
a certain panache to the proceedings and an almost civic sense of legitimacy.  
Roland Wise, the first Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Buffalo State College and the 1960 top prize winner at the WNY Show, remembers the fervor well.  “The
WNY Exhibitions were really vast affairs,” he said, “because they included the lowliest and the highest (artists) and everybody brought their work in for possible acceptance.”  

“Then they had a big artist come in, like Philip Guston, and gallery directors came in, and there were rumors of who influenced who, and how corrupt the situation was -- but it was glorious!”  “The WNY Shows were loaded with importance,” Wise said tongue-in-cheek, “self-importance!”  

Cohen continued to have high visibility in the 1960’s.  A Western New York Exhibition prize-winner in 1960, 1965 and 1969, she took top honors in the 1964 show with a large oil painting called Lacrymosa, titled from the Berlioz Requiem, and one of the most important works Cohen ever created.  “When Jack Kennedy was assassinated,” Cohen stated to Rosalind Van Gelder in the publication, New Directions for Women, “I was so shaken that I immersed myself in a painting that became Lacrymosa.  It was my personal way of expressing my grief.”   

“I remember when she called me into her studio,” Perrone said, “to see the drawing on canvas of what turned out to be Lacrymosa.  It was an amazing drawing and could have stood alone as a work of art.  She was a great draftsman, always sketching, developing images out of the simplest forms.  She really worked at some of her drawings.  She saw clearly beyond the drawing and into the painting, and that’s what she did with Lacrymosa”.

In later years, however, rubbing graphite into her drawings with her fingers must have been particularly painful for Cohen, since she suffered from severe arthritis in both hands since the nineteen-fifties, the first of many serious ailments suffered throughout her entire artistic career, including breast cancer in the mid-1980’s.  
Cohen, like WNY show winners Drummer and Olmsted before her, was also awarded a one-person show at the Albright following her top WNY show prize.  But, unlike the major proportions of the 1959 exhibition, in which the two maverick artists virtually transformed the huge Albright exhibit space into a personal design statement, with massive canvasses hanging from the ceilings, Cohen’s show was relegated to the small and commercial confines of the Members’ Gallery.  Nonetheless, she was not deterred and exhibited some of the most important works in her repertoire, including Lacrymosa.    
The 1967 WNY show was the last one to be held annually.  The gallery decided to
present Patteran and Buffalo Society of Artists’ exhibitions alternately with WNY
shows.  Gordon Smith, then-Director of the Albright, explained that the decision was necessitated by the growth of the gallery’s own collections, with the added rationale
that fewer shows would produce a higher quality of work from artists “not called upon
to exhibit so frequently.”  But in the biennial years of the competition, fewer artists were selected.  

The Albright downsizing effect served to dampen the spirits of those who eagerly looked forward to the annual event.  In many ways, it ended an artistic period.  Reaction to the Albright’s policies was swift.  Several protest exhibitions popped up in many galleries featuring works by shunned artists rejected by the WNY shows; those same artists who were, in previous years, favorites of the Gallery.

Amy Hamouda, a Buffalo sculptor and teacher recalled the dilemma of Albright’s Members’ Galleries policies in a 1976 Lilith Magazine interview, when one of her smaller works was rejected by the selection committee: “Oh, they just loved it,” a Members’ Gallery volunteer told Hamouda, “but whooooh, it’s so big.  I mean how would they, I mean it’s just so...heavy...I mean could you just see one of our members coming in wearing her fur coat and trying to carry this out of here?”  In this setting, it was not likely that Cohen’s work would be sold by volunteers Hamouda described as “social, fairly wealthy women -- a sort of Junior League stepping stone.”   
Tina Cohen remembers the indignity of the 1964 W.N.Y. Exhibition Best of Show award, when her mother’s triumph appeared as a tiny headline in the Buffalo News: “Snyder Housewife Wins Prize.”  “The award,” Ms. Cohen said, “was a point of great pride with the family.  But it was forever in our family history as that headline.  This was well before the term feminism, and the notion of women’s equality was not mainstream.  I was young enough to know she was annoyed by the article but did not fully understand until later this was the sort of non-recognition that feminists deplored.”

Photo of Adele working



No mass appeal. Ergo no profit. Ergo no use. The current World Credo.
Lucille Kallen, The Tanglewood Murder (1980)

We have not crawled so very far / up our individual grass-blade / toward our individual star.
H.D., The Walls Do Not Fall (1944)

Trucking Roadkill To New York City
Cohen, besides the Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition in 1965, had several one person exhibitions in the 1960’s including two at the Bodley Gallery (1961-62) and the Phoenix Gallery (1968) in New York City; the Towson State College Art Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland (1962); and the Coffee Encores Gallery (1960) and the Zuni Gallery (1964). She continued to make group show appearances in Buffalo and other parts of the country, as well as inclusion in Who’s Who in American Woman.  

In many of the group shows, Cohen garnered awards, such as the top oil prize, in 1965, in the prestigious 16th Annual New England Exhibition, Silvermine Guild of Artists, in New Canaan, Connecticut.  
However, the New York Times, Art News and Arts Magazine reviewed her 1968 one person show at the Phoenix Gallery in New York with mixed opinions.

Recognition for Cohen was elusive.  She sought more prominence outside the rewarding but limited confines of the Buffalo art scene, and with help from marketer Lynne Kramer and others she tried to land representation in a prominent New York City art gallery.  

After long and repeated failures to land the “big one,” Cohen eventually chose the Phoenix Gallery for several solo and group shows beginning in 1968.  The Phoenix, primarily a venue for women artists, was the oldest co-operative gallery in New York, and located next to the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue, which Kramer thought was “good company.”   

The search went on for decades.  Cohen even rented space on 14th Street on Union Square, where her paintings and sculptures were trucked from Buffalo, many of them
large pieces.  They were positioned in her spacious, new storage rooms in close proximity, hopefully, for placement in an important 57th Street or Soho art gallery.  The preparation for such an event was executed with precise groundwork by Cohen, Perrone, Lynne Kramer, Richard Bloch, and subsequent agents.

“The co-op venue,” Kramer recalls, “made each artist associated with the gallery contribute funds to set up the show and to cover the costs of the mailings and the public relations.  I don’t know if you’d call it a ‘vanity gallery’ -- I don’t like that term -- so I always called it a ‘cooperative gallery,’ and that kind of cooperation indicated that each of the participating artists who ‘cooperated’ had a show of their own.  Adele had good shows there, excellent turnouts and some very good reviews.”  
The 1968 Phoenix show, however, did not impress the critic from Art News, who wrote about Cohen’s new venture into sculpture, the Wheel Series, a group of wood industrial spools with interiors of amorphous shapes made from fiber and polyester.  The total effect, the reviewer reported, created “a dismal sandwich of burnt and blackened materials,” and the accompanying paintings in the show “have a whiteness that looks dingy.”   

Not everyone held negative views about the work and, like much of art, it can take awhile to assimilate new visions.  In later years, Edna Moore, an artist and past curator at the Georgia Museum of Art, suggested that the Wheels are “reminiscent of medieval instruments of torture that often involved wheels.  The inner sections are filled with shapes and textured materials that might once have been hair, skin, and vital organs as though these wheels had rolled over and over on human beings, animal and/or human, in some distant time, leaving only crushed and dried remains.  Such a process is almost too horrible to accept on a human level although the accounts of the Inquisition and the Holocaust leave no doubt that man’s inhumanity to man can be without limit.”

“The relatively small sizes of the wheels...tend to insure the spectator against the feeling that he, too, might be destroyed if the wheels were set in motion again.  If one considers the mangled remains as those of lower suggests the result of the less attractive aspects of an automobile-oriented society.”
Kramer eventually introduced Cohen to her friend Richard Bloch, a former music director who knew his way around the New York City galleries.  He became Cohen’s representative in a relationship that lasted several years.  Kramer and Bloch talked often about strategy and marketing ploys that would strengthen and expand Cohen’s visibility in New York and other parts of the art world.

“Adele really wanted to move outside the New York area for recognition,” Kramer
recalled, “and spread out cross the country.”  It was Bloch who found the Phoenix
Gallery which, coupled with the Union Square space, almost made New York City a second home for Cohen.  She was constantly shuttling back and forth from Buffalo checking out not only prospective New York art venues with Bloch, but possible sculptural installations in neighboring states and national and international

Paintings and sculptures, many of them large, were trucked back and forth, with Perrone as carrier and chief engineer of everything related to the work.  Perrone was largely responsible for the presentation of Cohen’s artwork, and the manner in which they were presented in exhibitions: the paintings meticulously framed, the sculptures pristinely encased in plexiglass settings, and the exhibits designed with such flair that gallery curators might have feared for their jobs.    

Besides Perrone, the often madcap excursions included a variety of Buffalo people, such as artist Wes Olmsted and non-artists along for the ride with a chance to spend some time in New York.  Olmsted recalls the time on Second Avenue in Harlem “when this guy comes up to the truck, which had ‘Al Cohen’s Famous Rye Bread Bakery’ written on the side. He knocks on the door and wants a dozen fresh rolls!  A little foresight on Adele’s part and we could have made some profit on the trip!  Probably the only profit on the trip because artists rarely recover the costs of their exhibitions.  They do their work because of love, not of work, but love of their work.”

Cohen’s “profits” were minimal.  As far as galleries were concerned, she knew her work would not sell.  “The image I portray is a little bit too strong,” she told Linda Enke of Lilith Magazine.  “It’s not nice art, and it would be hard for a commercial gallery to sell it.  I don’t resent that.  The Albright gave me a very large one person show in the sixties. Again, it projected a very strong image.  It was an exhibition and was neither salable or palatable for the general public.”  

Although Cohen’s work was acquired privately, primarily by friends and associates,
the public collections were wanting: the totality of work sold through a 60- year, art-
producing career was not prodigious.  Robert Bertholf, the head of The Poetry/Rare Books Collection at the University of Buffalo, curated a major exhibition there in 1989.
He speaks about Cohen’s accomplishments with the same fervid intensity as his perceptions about her lack of promotional foresight.  “Adele’s career,” he said, “was lived outside of the formal art structure of Buffalo, and she never had an aggressive plan to get herself institutionalized, and so she must have left  a thousand paintings...”  
“Co-op galleries aren’t good at being aggressive,” Bertholf asserted, “it takes a marketer, like Martha Jackson, who was a real roller.”

Cohen recalls a 1960’s conversation she had with Jackson, the New York City art maven who represented many of the leading abstract expressionists.  This was a viewing to assess Cohen’s chances of landing a New York gallery:

M.J.:  “Too tasteful.  Museum things!  Come to Provincetown, mingle and live there for awhile this summer.  Bring me stuff like that paper and burlap thing.  What does Phil Elliott think of your work?”
A.C.:  “I’m not sure he knows it.”
M.J.:  “But if you went to Albright, you know Phil.”
A.C.:  “I went there in ‘39, and he was teaching photography.”
M.J.:  “But you must have gone there later.  Those must have been children’s classes in ‘39.”
A.C.:  “It’s getting increasingly difficult to convince anyone that I am old enough to paint well.”

Others attending the viewing session advised Cohen that, although her work was good technically, it was “too avant garde for a commercial operation,” and being a woman didn’t help matters.  “Unless she comes with a following,” Jackson said. “For example, representation in collections or having some gimmick, like being Asian or some other foreign extraction.”

Cohen was so hesitant to push her art she even had difficulty selling to friends.  Fellow artist Sylvia Rosen, who was close to Adele, recalls an incident.  “I was interested in purchasing one of Adele’s later paintings and expressed that to Adele, but she didn’t act on it because she wasn’t that kind of person.  She didn’t come back to me and say, ‘OK, you want to buy it?’  I’m a private person too, but in order to be with people and interact, and even to sell your things -- you have to be visible!”                         

Sex is an emotion in motion.
Mae West, in Diane Arbus, “Mae West: Emotion in Motion,” Show (1965)

The Zuni, Big Pictures, and Sexual Tension
“When I stopped painting my life in the arts didn’t stop,” Perrone said.  “Adele and I collaborated in the running of the Zuni Gallery in the early 60’s and later we did a set for Joe Krysiak’s theatrical production of Fando and Lis at the Albright-Knox.  I continued to do things for Adele’s artwork, and we traveled in Europe seeing art and art history.
My friends were still painting, but I was doing remodeling and cabinet making for a living. That and building a solar home left little time for my art and I had long given up or felt a need to paint. I was still interested in art but disillusioned with the ‘art world.’ Support of the arts, and especially for the artist left a lot to be desired.  Even with her great painting and limited successes, Adele still couldn’t get picked up by a good New York gallery.  It was very discouraging in general, but she still tried.”      

The Zuni Gallery venture in Buffalo in 1962 was a strange departure for Cohen and Perrone because it pitted them on the other side of the counter in the art world; now  they were handling artists and presenting shows.  Perrone remodeled the empty space, a former coffee house, and the rent was cheap.  He installed used wood planking on the floors, decorated it with a gravel and flagstone sculpture court, provided homosote panels to hang paintings on, and opened the doors!  

“We showed many fine and varied artists in group and individual shows,” Perrone said, “including Jim Dine, Arakawa, and local artists.  We got a lot of help from Paul, Adele’s husband, and Lynne Kramer, who orchestrated the artists’ participation from New York and handled all of the promotions.  Although we were the first gallery in Buffalo to show Pop and Op Art (including the Albright-Knox), the community support was poor and discouraging.  An instance of that was that we could not get the Albright to come to any shows.  Their elitism and attitude that only colorful, upbeat paintings would grace their walls was an eye-opening and dampening forecast for future success for Adele, me and any other artist of the doom and gloom variety.”  

“There were some interesting adventures associated with the Zuni,” Perrone said, “and although Adele wanted to continue, I didn’t want to waste another year, so after two years we ended with an exhibition of Adele and me, the only time we had a two person show together.”

The Zuni opened with a show of Lawrence Calcagno, their friend who was working in New York and a former teacher of Perrone’s at the Albright Art School in the late 50’s. Calcagno, as a person, teacher and artist left a strong and enduring influence on young Buffalo artists and it was a fitting tribute. Calcagno’s impact on the Buffalo art scene was profound, considering his relatively short stint as a Buffalo art educator. But his former students, to this day, speak of the lasting effect and inspirational guidance under his tutelage, particularly true for his friend Wes Olmsted, for whom he helped obtain a McDowell Foundation Grant and years later participated in a two-man exhibition with Calcagno at the More-Rubin Gallery in Buffalo. Given his high patronage profile, selling many of his works to private admirers in Buffalo, it was commendable that he also paid particular attention to and helped promote other mature artists in the Buffalo region. One of those he admired was Cohen, and he often brought visitors and student artists to see her work at her Burbank Drive studio.

Calcagno became a close friend of Cohen’s and was often invited to the Burbank household for dinners, coffee parties, and other informal social gatherings. Cohen warmly greeted visitors to her home on a regular basis, and the cast of characters, besides internationally-known artists such as Calcagno and Louise Nevelson, often included Olmsted, Perrone, and a galaxy of their reckless friends. Around the pool, the atmosphere resembled somewhere between the Algonquin Hotel Roundtable and the Marx Brothers, with stimulating and lively conversation added to the mix.

Cohen’s paintings in the 1960’s marked a high point in Cohen’s career.  The mostly  
large canvasses were marked with strong messages of inner and outer turmoil.
I dreamt I Saw Eternity, Establishment, Lacrymosa, Requiem for World War I, David’s Lament, Journey to Moriah, and Babi Yar were towering statements about the human condition.  Many of her  works in this period exhibited skillfully applied textures of collage, some pure collage, but all marked with a passion that eclipsed even her earlier work in the 1950’s.  “The David’s Lament series,” Perrone recalls, “was initiated I think by her father’s death.  These works defy influence.  They could only be born from deep within an amazing and complex psyche.  I don’t know if ‘creativity’ applies to it.  It seems so easy an explanation for her art.”   
Cohen’s friend and fellow artist Wes Olmsted expressed his thoughts about the works: “I
immediately liked David’s Lament and Journey to Moriah.  They were dark, mysterious and expressionistic.  They didn’t just state; they evoked.  They did what painting should do, what it must do, if it is to be something other than a wall hanging.  What is interesting is what caused this change in her, from the earlier abstract/non-objective works.  I theorize that it was Adele’s involvement with Ben and his work at the time that helped push her out of a purely non-objective ourvre and into an art of organic, evocative expressionism.”  

But the critics’ wit with Cohen’s work was unabated.  Jean Reeves, a Buffalo Evening News critic and frequent admirer of Cohen’s work, reviewed the Patteran Artists’ Show at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 1967, finding a sculpture of Cohen’s “a tiny masterpiece of horror.  It costs $125 if your house isn’t haunted, but you’d like it to be.”

In the 1968 Patteran Artists show, Reeves found the image in Journey to Moriah, “ repelling, suggesting to me creatures caught in a trap, I found it almost unbearable to look on.”  Presumably, upon viewing, the viewers should run for their lives!  Reeves admitted that this was “...perhaps the artist’s intentions.”  Intended or not, Adele Cohen’s career was not exactly what the family and the Buffalo art public had expected of this brassy female artist who seemed to have much talent, but with images, in their collective view, that were perhaps a bit misdirected toward the gruesome and macabre.

Bertholf wrote about the imagery of these works, and others from the same period, in his preface to the catalog for the exhibition at the University.  “The central image of
David’s Lament” he said, “insists on a tension between the pain and difficulty of
human life on one side and the beauty and power of female sexuality on the other.”  

In a later interview, Bertholf expressed his views more succinctly by suggesting that there was a Freudian connection to Cohen’s imagery.  “I talked to her about her paintings,” he relates, “and I said, ‘You know, these paintings are terribly Freudian -- they are Freudian sexual images.’  She replied, ‘What do you mean?  They’re not!  Not at all!’  I didn’t know -- I still don’t -- if she was putting me on, or whether she really didn’t know that these images she was making were just rich in total sexual imagery.  But she had to have known it!”

Part of Cohen’s personality dictated not giving a direct answer to a question of that nature; a kind of mild guile about herself and her work.  Bertholf insists that “it’s a
violent, sexual world that she has in those works, what Ben Perrone calls a ‘dream world.’  It was a ‘dream world’, but nonetheless, it was a sexual dream world.  And Adele didn’t project to me a high sexual energy.  And I couldn’t get that in line with what she was painting.  I was seeing this painting, seeing this high sexual, mythic world that she was depicting, and she didn’t come across as a sexual being!”

Lynn Kramer also refers to the dichotomy of Cohen’s work to her persona.  “The work and the person were so totally different that it was a fascinating experience for me.  The work was huge, awesome, emotional and full of sexual energy.  Adele, on the other hand, was very quiet as a person.  Don’t forget...the relationship between Adele and Paul was strange.  He adored Adele, but he was also very sick.  So it was a different kind of relationship.”

Kramer also sees parallels with Cohen’s personality and the darkness that is prevalent in most of her work.  “I understood why the darkness came, and where it came from,” she said.  “I understood it because I understood her!  It was very subliminal, in that you saw what was inside of her soul.  I found that to be irresistible because she would never let that come out of her personality.”  

Cutting to the core of the matter to some, she stated, “I know a lot of people probably felt a little bit put off because she could be gruff, too, because she didn’t give too much credit to the negative reaction about the ‘dark’ tendencies in the work.  It didn’t bother
her.”  In an understatement, Kramer thinks Cohen “didn’t really need the accolades of friendships -- she was much more interested in talking with and being approved by her peers.”  Kramer concludes, “As a result, Adele was a very profound person and not at all superficial in any way.  I found her to be a fascinating friend and a very valuable companion.”
A Buffalo gallery owner admitted “having a lot of trouble with Cohen’s work,” although granted Cohen a one person exhibition of works that were less vexatious.  “The sexual
connotations and the darkness, you know -- that always bothered me,” she said.  It would be better to question others, she advised.  

Tracy Kassman is the daughter of Shirley Kassman, a renowned Buffalo artist who, like Tracy, was a friend of Cohen and a Buffalo lawyer who also served on the Artists’ Committee.  Her reply was exuberant: “I loved it!,” she exclaimed.  “I never thought of it before, but it really was sexual.  It was all about interiors, struggle, and strength coming from within.”  Referring to her mother’s work, she said, “Those images don’t bother me; I was kind of raised with those.”

The center of all this sexual attention, David’s Lament, and all the studies that came before and after the work, was donated by Cohen to the University of Buffalo, following her Transforming Image exhibition at the Poetry/Rare Books Collection in 1981.

For many people, feminism is one of those words of which, as St. Augustine said about time, they know the meaning as long as no one is asking.
Katha Pollitt, Reasonable Creatures (1994)

People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.
Rebecca West, in The Clarion (1913)

Feminist: To Be Or Not To Be
Cohen’s role as a “feminist artist” did not register much within the Buffalo community. Arlene Siegel said that “Adele was not a rambunctious lover of all women.  She was very, very selective.”  There was a “consciousness-raising” group, according to Tracy Kassman.  “The group included,” Kassman said, “many prominent women artists in Buffalo, including my mother, Shirley.  They were really into women’s issues, and that’s where they were getting their strength.  Adele, although she personified a lot of women’s issues, was not a joiner; she was more independent.  She was not in that particular group, but she was doing a parallel track of artistically exploring things that were significant to women’s issues.  She was friends, however, with all these women.”

Even in earlier years, the thought of joining a woman’s sewing club repelled Cohen.  
Arlene Siegel recalls her friend “having a problem dealing with women in groups.”  
“She was very restless and bored,” Siegel said.  “I pulled her into a couple of groups
with some girls she knew, but her tolerance of them was kind of shallow.  She couldn’t understand why I was having so much fun with them.  I said, ‘Because I don’t take them seriously,’ and of course we never sewed -- we just sat around and ate on Thursday night while the men played poker.”  

“Saul Siegel once pleaded with Adele to attend the meetings: ‘You’ve got to come to the Sewing Club!’ ‘Oh God,’ Adele would say, ‘I don’t want to come!’  And Saul would tell her, ‘Adele, you’ve got to keep contact with the everyday woman -- you can’t keep yourself secluded!’”    
Roland Wise, who has exhibited with Cohen in group shows, recalls the 1970’s as a time when there was “more overt attention to the ‘gender situation.’”  “The seventies,” he said, “was a period when many artists who were female were starting to feel that they could be influential as part of a group consciousness.  I don’t know where Adele fit into that because she was functioning very well, I thought, before that period.”  

“There were a number of female artists from earlier days who were very good,” Wise said,” such as Martha Vissert’ Hooft, Shirley Kassman, Dorothy Shea, Virginia Cuthbert, Harriet Greif, and others.  Adele was from that period and was absolutely second to none!”  

“And although they were noted as being females, of course, I don’t think the issue of a deliberate deprivation was notable.  In the seventies, I think, that issue became rather heavy.  The women in the older generation carried their weight very wonderfully.  They didn’t have any flags about the thing, they just did it!  Other female artists, maybe younger than Adele, kind of realized that it was almost a political movement and that they were able to deal with feminism.  And I think Adele did, to a degree, but not as notable as others.  So she was an artist, with all the hardships that women have to deal with and never get benefits.  But she was a very functioning person in the artistic world.”  
Sheldon Berlyn, a retired art teacher from the University of Buffalo and another perennial prize-winner at the W.N.Y. Exhibition, admired “Adele’s focus and her point of view,” which he believed was largely feminist.  “Feminist in the best sense of the word,” Berlyn add, “that is, expressing her feelings as a woman.  A lot of women artists objected to being called ‘feminist,’ they just wanted to be thought of like Georgia O’Keefe, for example.”  

“Adele refused to admit or to acknowledge,” Berlyn said “that there was anything in her work that was focused in feminism, that it was just her work as an artist.  The only group I know of that she joined was the Patteran Society.”  This organization, with a long and rich Western New York history, consisted of faculty-based artists and many strong non-academic men and women artists. Berlyn once served as president.
Berlyn acknowledges that male chauvinism ruled at the time.  “I probably was right in there among them!” Berlyn said.  “But, until some of my feminist students really set me straight, I had to find a way to deal with them and not be entirely despised.  I probably harbored the thought at one time that there was male art and there was female art -- that there was a difference.  I mean, it had to do with the fact that men and women are different in many ways.  When it comes to creativity, you can’t say that, I guess.  Maybe ‘different’ is a more desirable term than better, or weaker, or stronger, or anything like that.  It’s just different, and I think we love that difference; that’s part of what we enjoy.”  
“But I can honestly say that I never thought of Adele primarily as a woman artist; I just thought of her as an artist.  Although, I was aware that there was a quality in her work that perhaps was a little less aggressive than in my work, or in someone else’s.  Her work is strong but the boldness that I tend to do is kind of gestural bold; I would say ballsy, which is sometimes tempered by my feminist side, I have to say.”  (Laughter.)  “I think Adele’s work was strong, and at the same time -- well, I’m not sure ‘poetic’ is an appropriate term, but there’s a degree of introspective, a deep personal uniqueness to her work.”

Paul Martin, a retired professor at Buffalo State College, remembers “an intense kind
of rivalry with male artists versus female artists.  The men kind of resented Cohen’s success as a painter, and tried to treat her as if she was a non-serious artist; ‘the baker’s wife.’  That was the way she was referred to when I first came here.  Silly stuff
like that.”  

Wes Olmsted points out family background as a reason for Cohen’s resilience.  “Adele was a small, sensitive, intelligent Jewish woman, who had to function and compete in a large, hostile masculine world, where her chances of controlling things were minimal. She was, like me, an only child and like all only children, she had to learn how to make adjustments and share with others.  You learn early to expect all the attention and you get it, both good and bad!  But you learn to protect yourself inside from the bad things coming your way, even in spite of the fact you may have earned it.”

Olmsted said many women artists through the years were thought of as “Sunday Painters” and that “Adele, like the rest of us, needed colleagues and friends to accept her as a serious artist.  Further, in Buffalo, if you didn’t have a New York art gallery, you were considered an amateur by the art establishment.  So Adele got a New York art gallery, a co-op, but at least she had shows in New York City.  She worked at being accepted and adding to her resume.”    

Cohen did participate in a group exhibition in 1974 entitled “Feminist Reflections,” at the Upton Gallery in Buffalo State University College.  Jean Reeves, the Buffalo Evening News art critic, expresses what might have passed for Cohen’s own credo regarding feminist art.  “Art expresses experiences,” she said, “so it is no shock to find the stresses of being women visible in these works.  (Artist) Betsy Damon’s statement sums it up: ‘I am a woman.  My work reflects that experience.’”

“I never thought of myself consciously, but not necessarily in order,” Cohen wrote in the 1970’s, “as an artist, housewife, modern artist, subjugated female, depressed, Jew, discriminated against, success, failure, liberated, but at one time or another I’ve been slapped down or bolstered, flattered or dismissed by one of the above.  Fortunately or
unfortunately something, someone, or some circumstance has pulled me in the opposite direction and righted me, neutralizing the ‘excitements’ of the cause.  I always had to get back to work!”

“Don’t believe that the feminist image is discernible as something specific any more than there is a ‘black’ image or a male image.  The strength in the imagery of Louise Nevelson, or Helen Frankenthaler does not reveal the sex of the artist. It only reveals their quality of the work, boiling down to good art.  Living the life of a minority -- female, artist, Jew -- is an uphill battle for recognition.  You find the feminist movement hard to delineate from your lifestyle.  It’s like joining a union to live.”  
“Artists that happen to be female,” Cohen asserts, “must go beyond ‘the back of the bus’ stage as soon as possible!  I think that if you encounter my work in an exhibition you would not know if I was male or female.  We female artists have always been here, surfacing at regular intervals.  This time I hope we stay up.  I can only applaud and support every effort from the militant to the passive and fit myself in whenever I can.”  

“The problem,” Cohen told Linda Enke of Lilith Magazine, “has always been for women, or for artists in general, the achievement of first class status in the art world and the material world.  In this country I firmly believe that artists are also-ran citizens.”  
Cohen recalled being closely involved with the “10th Street Artists” in New York in the late 40’s and early 50’s, working closely with women artists such as Nevelson and
Frankenthaler.  Cohen told Enke, “We fought for art, alongside men artists fighting for
the same recognition.  We weren’t thinking about being women artists as such.  We were fighting this battle of being segregated by the establishment.”

Perhaps the only gender rivalry that existed was between Cohen and a member of her own sex, Shirley Kassman.  Tracy Kassman recalls “a little bit of rivalry.  I’m not sure if it was on both sides, or just my mom’s side.  They were always friends, went to each others shows and kept abreast, etcetera.  My mom and Adele were both ‘reachers and stretchers.’  I think they were both really heroic.  Like my mom, whenever she would get really comfortable with something, she would start something else, something new.” Kassman suffered from breast cancer, and died at age 62.  Cohen’s cancer and subsequent mastectomy surfaced later, in the mid-1980’s.

When asked by Enke if Cohen’s preoccupation with being an artist may have made her oblivious to certain problems with being a female artist, Cohen replied, “Yes, I don’t know...maybe I have been put down.  It takes me awhile to get the point.  Maybe I have been held back.  But I can’t be certain this is a reality.  I am one of those artists who make statements that don’t make pretty reading.  I don’t think I’ve gone through a
rebellion because of my sex.  My daughter doesn’t agree with me.  She feels that she is going to make it in spite of being a woman!”  

Cohen’s penchant for dry humor was again evident in a mid-70’s interview by Suzann Denny, an art teacher at Buffalo State College and a prominent artist in the region.  
When asked by Denny if she was into feminist art, Cohen’s rejoinder was, “What is masculine art?”

“The 1950’s and 60’s were an easy time for women artists compared to previous history,” Ben Perrone said.  “There were several well-known women artists in the Buffalo area and I don’t remember them being ignored, although the question was still probed.  Adele and other women (and races) were discriminated against as artists but there was a wealth of discrimination in society that was devastating by comparison.  Adele’s family life, raising children, friends and relatives -- even her art life was ‘normal.’  But normal meant some discrimination as a Jew, woman and artist.”      
Tina Cohen sums up her mother’s feelings this way: “My mother hated labels.  Her
spirit and independence were the great role model for me and as well for my friends.”  

Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix.
Christina Baldwin, One to One (1977)

Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman’s Bible (1895)

A New Dimension, an Old War and a New War
Three-dimensional and mixed media work became the keynote emphasis for Cohen in the 1970’s, a sharp departure following her success with the dramatic oils of the 60’s.  She executed these works in a myriad of forms and configurations: sculptures encased in plexiglass, flat totems, round totems, shaped canvasses, collages and one large installation.  

“Creative work of the artist is never a finished entity,” Cohen wrote.  “Rather, it’s an open-ended and endless beginning of a created effort.  No painter, sculptor or composer could view a current work without seeing another possible work or at least changes that could be made.  Each work is a catalyst for the next, and every truly creative person is a curious seeker of an inner knowledge.”

“I’m not sure how painting can convert into sculpture,” artist Roland Wise said.  “She was a painter, in terms of working with imagery as paint -- letting paint tell the story of imagery.  Then, in the seventies, she started literally to go three-dimensional!”  He recalls another successful painter, a Buffalo artist who did the same thing without much success, in Wise’s opinion.  
But the diversity of work, the excellent technical quality, and the searing imagery was manifest in all of the sculptural pieces Cohen produced in the 1970’s.  Perrone, for one, thought the work “was great for its times, a major contribution she infused into her overall artistic oeuvre.”  It is often true that one must look into the whole body of an artist’s work to evaluate the selected parts therein, something many critics overlook.
Victor Shanchuk, a Buffalo artist and educator who is Project Assistant for the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, saw no difficulty in Cohen’s shift from painting to sculpture.  “If you look at Adele’s paintings and her transition to sculpture, you’ll see there is a similarity in the forms that she used, the structures that she used, and the colorations.”  Indeed, there was a direct line, a tread of commonality in Cohen’s work that existed throughout whatever media she chose to be working with -- painting, sculpture, collage, drawing, or lithography.   

Cohen’s work continued to confound and even produce mock alarm from of the critics,
both in Buffalo and in New York.  Many writers surmised that Cohen’s preoccupation with death and decay was an important, recurring coda in her work, implying there was little anyone could do to change it.  Some praised her work, but she was often dismissed by others who had little patience with gloomy imagery.  
In the beginning of the decade, Cohen produced metamorphic sculptural images, called Seven Pillers that resembled portions of burnt corpses.  They were encased in seemingly incongruous elegant plexiglass cases, prompting one critic to comment that “...these frightening objects, fortunately for the viewer, are safely encased in glass.”  The sculptures were so realistically depicted and assembled that one reviewer remarked, “Entering the exhibition of sculpture, one might almost mistake it for a Museum of Natural History, so much do these works resemble paleolithic specimens.”
Cohen paid little attention to critics, once stating that she never had a bad review,
“only nothing reviews when they were floored by the work and didn’t understand it. Then they write about the color or the texture.”  She was fond of quoting the artist Henry Moore, including this comment: “Art critics have taught me next to nothing!”  

Perrone calls the reliquary-like sculptures “burnt effigies, mystic echoes of the Viet Nam War,” which continued to rage into the 1970’s.  Exhibitions featuring these pieces were often accompanied by oils, graphite drawings, collages and prints, both linocut and silkscreen, and these were unanimously favored by the reviewers.  Presumably, the pieces nailed to the wall were less threatening than the “scary” free-standing sculptures, and therefore more palatable.  Ironically, their visceral imagery was no less profound.

Rosalind Van Gelder, in a 1976 article about Cohen in “New Directions for Women,” a New York City publication, wrote that “Cohen disclaims any total fascination with
death.”  She quotes Cohen as saying, “Certain tragic events like the assassination of John Kennedy have moved me to paint works that reflect the anguish of such situations, but I do not seek out the grotesque or gory as shock treatment.  I am concerned with change,” she informed Van Gelder,” Change is a continuous process in nature.”   

To illustrate her point more emphatically, Cohen directed Van Gelder to the Seven Pillars.  “The shapes look like shadows of something that were once more substantial,” Van Gelder said, “and one feels they will eventually crumble into dust.  But for the moment, in this fragile and ephemeral state, they stand as a stark testament to the fact that nothing is immune to change.”  Van Gelder, a respected art critic, praised the “eloquence” of Cohen’s works above other women artists who have dealt with the subjects of death and decay.

Tracy Kassman grew up with similar themes through exposure to her mother Shirley’s dark artistic imagery.  She said, “Adele’s series on decay really hooked into a deep real appreciation of the cycle of life.  Like how fungus is beautiful, a rotten log is beautiful -- I thought those works were fabulous!  I get the same tuning fork vibration from her work as I get from Rothko’s.  You can almost hear those pieces hum, like you can from the Rothko Chapel in Houston.”

“There is a haunting beauty,” Cohen wrote, “in even the most macabre aspects of death and decay since there is but a transient phase between the beauty that was and will again come, transformed and revitalized. Why celebrate ‘beauty’ without considering the whole phase of transformation? Death is not final, just a continuance of the cycle of nature. As the phoenix emerged from ashes so too does decay serve as the fertilizing catalyst for life. The transformation from one living creature to another has a character of its own with a delicacy and structure that is both unique and universal.”

Cohen exhibited in many group shows in the seventies, including venues in Germany,
Japan, and Chile.  She also traveled to Greece, the first of three trips there with Perrone, and Israel, where she laid the seeds for an exhibition to be held in Tel Aviv in 1974, originally scheduled for 1973.  

The headline in the Buffalo Evening News announcing the interruption was dramatic: “War Upsets Snyder Artist’s Exhibit in Tel Aviv.”  The Middle East war had erupted and Cohen attempted to ship her crates of drawings, but the air freight lines were not
accepting any goods until the end of the war.  News critic Jean Reeves reported, “Small and slim with a soft voice and pretty face, Mrs. Cohen comments that ‘insurance doesn’t cover war.  The crates could drop into the ocean and they’d be covered, but they’re not covered by war.’”  Cohen was never at a loss for ironic humor opportunities.  

The drawings, called Paleograph Series, were inspired by her trips to Greece, “things
that came out of he ruins of the ancient monuments: fossils, relics, artifacts, things that
still exist but in different forms than the original,” she related to Reeves.  They closely resembled the forms explicit in the sculptural Seven Pillars. Cohen’s several visits to Greece, Italy, France and Israel, plus forays into the south and southwest United States had influences on her work, sometimes subtle and other times quite apparent.

“The Paleograph Series are,” Reeves said, “like all her work, delicate and yet deadly.  The lines can be gossamer, so delicate, so feathery, but shadows are ever-present.  They bring with them mystery, eerie suggestions of strange birds, animals, elusive human forms, cobwebby corners.  The artist herself says in a catalog note that change in nature influences her profoundly.  The drawings are testament not only to her power as a technician but to her uniquely personal talent.”  

Artist Suzann Denny endows the Paleographs with a sense of compelling dignity: “The transformation of something which once enjoyed the beauty of life into a different image, with physical reference to its Life, seems a link with humanity.”  
The exhibition of 39 drawings was successfully shown at the New Gallery in Tel Aviv in 1974, and garnered excellent reviews.  Cohen also exhibited the drawings in a one
person exhibition at the Phoenix Gallery in New York in 1974, and in a two person show with sculptor Amy Hamouda at the Artists Committee Gallery in Buffalo in 1976.

Reviewer Hal Crowther in the Buffalo Evening News, in a humorous but otherwise glowing critique, saw in Cohen’s work “an eerie family resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft’s
fictional artist who painted unearthly creatures so convincingly that the authorities came to investigate.  Cohen’s pairing with sculptress Hamouda is a marriage made in -- well, purgatory.”  But Crowther concluded, “Both artists have the gift for symbols that suggest aeons of time and folklore...a small fortune in imagination.”  

The symbiotic relationship between the two artist friends prompted Buffalo Courier-Express critic Nancy Tobin Willig to call the display “an eloquent visual dialogue about life, decay, and death.”  

Tragedy struck the Cohen family in 1975 when Paul, Adele’s husband, died of a brain tumor.  Because his pervasive illness existed over a long period, his colorful personality and warm countenance was but a memory in the Cohen household.  

As always, Cohen was resolute in holding herself and her family together. “The totality of life,” she wrote, “is a series of incidences; the copying of them, day by day, is the living of life. But there comes but once the challenge of a life or death situation. How we meet it and cross that ‘barrier’ really determines how (and with what importance to others and ourselves) we live the whole of our lives. The continuity of life requires death, is dependent on death. Without it and the recycling of nutrients there can be no growth. Life and death are intermittent in nature’s perpetual process of rejuvenation.”

Cohen, through the years, faced adversity with considerable detachment, common sense and, as always, privately.  But envisioning the inevitable with her husband’s decades-long siege, she wrote, “Intimately facing imminent death for so long, this art may be my way of dealing with the fact of its existence and that it will happen.  The pain of the fact is not lessened by knowledge, only the shock is lessened by expectation. Like birth, I’m sure it will be painful, but instead of the joy of birth there is nothing for the participant and only sorrow and regret for those left behind.  Only in accepting death can the living function as fully as possible in the time they have on earth.”

Saul Siegel explains Cohen’s courage.  “Adele was a great denier,” he states.  “If
things were tough, she just didn’t want to look at it.  The other thing was, she had to put up with Paul’s illness.  It was a traumatic time for Adele.  Talk about ‘The downside
of life!’  But she carried it off well. There’s no room for tragedy in her life,” Siegel concludes, “she didn’t have the time or the energy for tragedy.”
But courage was reflected on both sides of the family, as Paul Cohen acted in plays during his illness.  “It was difficult for him,” Siegel notes, “but he did it anyway!”
Melba Levick, a cousin and renowned photographer, remarked on Cohen’s life.  “I’ve always adored her and loved her work,” she said, “and admired her.  Our connection
was initially around an identification and fascination of our both being artists, loving travel, and other things.  I admired the way she lived and her curiosity about life...also, as I think about it, her acceptance of life, even in its hardships, always inspired me.”

“The thing about Adele’s independence stands out,” Saul Siegel notes, “it’s very strong above everything else.  She marches to her own drummer and she was going to do that, no matter what.”  It seemed nothing could deter her from her art or her direction.  “Even her illnesses in the last years,” Siegel said, “when she was in such pain.  As soon as she could sit up, or stand up, she was back in that studio, painting.”

Cohen, in the 1970’s, continued her search for alternative forms of three-dimensional
work with the formation of what she referred to as “shaped constructions.”  These new works combined two and three dimensional elements that encompassed both sculpture, painting, and skillful collage techniques.  The shaped paper constructions utilized fiber and acrylic, and were called Fresco Fragments.  

The most successful shaped canvas construction was The Gloria, a vast and remarkable oil and canvas on wood panel that resembled, in structure if not intent, a tilted, once-proud ship with a broken sail flogging inelegantly at sea.  With the shaped canvasses, Cohen poetically remarked, “Removing the canvas background frees the shape to inject or immerse itself into an atmosphere of its or the viewers choosing (a bird doesn’t pick its patch of sky to project its image against).  It can be flat or in juxtaposition or an integral part of a place, one dimensional or sculptural -- it’s our choice.”
The press release for the 1977 exhibition of Fresco Fragments at the Phoenix Gallery
in New York describes the work in ponderous terms: “The hard, fragmentary bits of matter, the stray strands and jagged contours suggest ashen debris that has been subjected to the harsh ministrations of time.  A probing observer of contemporary conditions, Adele Cohen is artistically intrigued with the visible, but usually unrecorded effects of time and the physical deterioration of man’s environment.  With this intent did Adele Cohen conceive of Fresco Fragments as a preview of what man in 3,000 A.D. will see as the remains of our civilization...the telling debris of our times.”  (The visionary date, in a later press release, was amended to 5,000 A.D.)
Cohen extended her reach into the three dimensional medium with sculptures she called Totems.  Flat Totems were large oil works on canvas, and Paper Totems were smaller acrylic pieces on molded paper.  Ultimately they transcended, in the 1980’s, into Round Totems , large, majestic wooden poles with materials that included paper, canvas, burlap, oils, and fabrics.  

Sometimes the Round Totems hung singly against the wall but were usually grouped in formations of various configurations, often propped against each other in a free-standing fashion.  All were colorful works except on rare occasions when they were bronzed for effect or to withstand weather conditions.  Outdoor installations and gallery presentations of these latter versions of Totems -- or Story Poles, as they were later known -- evoked images of mythic, ceremonial Native American legends.  

“I have been working with the realm of anthropological fantasy lately,” Cohen wrote, “the scope being associated with Indian legend.  With this in mind, I expect to pursue the color and culture of the Southwest and try to incorporate what I find to be my particular imagery.  What is paramount in my progression from pre-paleo form pieces to the Story Pole is legend.  They are ‘real,’ to the degree that they are my interpretation of the oral legends.  As with the Griot of Africa, to the Zuni of North America, every culture has a “story teller’”.

Cohen, as always, played on the high side of monumental themes in her 1970’s sculptures.  It culminated in Gorge Legend Arbor, a mammoth construction of polyester fibers, resins, paint, plastic and PVC pipe that was created for Artpark in Lewiston, New York.  It spanned six feet at the base and reached nine feet high, comprising eighty to one hundred feet of sculptural material.  It was described in the Artpark brochure as “a ghostly piece depicting the mood of the dark side of natural evolution.”  

Constructed directly above the tumultuous Niagara River on the edge of an Artpark cliff leading to the gorge, the piece, according to the brochure (and possibly Cohen’s own words) “interpreted what the Niagara Gorge would ‘give up’ if spirits could indeed rise or become solid.”  The work was again exhibited in the “Inner Images” retrospective at the Burchfield Art Center in 1981, and again as another outdoor installation at the
Chesterwood National Trust Site, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1983.

One of the Chesterwood Exhibition’s reviewers remarked on the “humor and
adventurousness” of the large sculpture, but he would not have imagined the episode Cohen experienced while transporting the work to the site.  Placed onto an open truck, the work evoked stares and shouts of caution from passing motorists, as fabric and fibrous materials from the huge work flew into the air, leaving an artistic trail in the truck’s wake!

In the l970’s, Cohen exhibited widely.  Besides the many group shows and solo shows at Buffalo’s More-Rubin Gallery and Tel Aviv, Israel, she also had one person shows at the Duns Scotus Gallery at Daemen College; the Phoenix Gallery in New York (three exhibitions); the Towson State College Art Gallery, in Baltimore, Maryland; and The
Artists’ Committee Gallery in Buffalo.  She also received the Janet E. Turner Prize in the 88th Annual Exhibition of The National Association of Women Artists, in New York.

Cohen, in 1973, taught at Buffalo State College and was also involved with State teacher Paul Martin and his printmaking students, taking them through the process of how Buffalo artists practiced their technique.  In 1973, Cohen also taught at the Human Dimensions Institute, Rosary Hill College in Buffalo.

Ben Perrone summarizes, “Adele was pretty solid with painting and sculpture at that time; a very productive part of her life.”

An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.
Jean Cocteau, Newsweek (1955)

One thing about artists is that most of them agree in thinking that nothing important can be said about art.  Another is that almost without exception they love to talk about it.
Selden Rodman, Conversations  with Artists,

Communicating the Unknown, Privately
It is difficult to find anyone in Cohen’s life who does not refer to a “private person” label to describe her personality.  Friends and relatives alike continually and apologetically sidetracked even the most impersonal questions about Cohen with the shopworn phrase: “She was a very private person.”  Indeed, often painfully so.  

But the statement reflects a futile effort to insulate her from any kind of harsh scrutiny. The corps of close friends and loving relatives were often very willing to express their own views about Cohen, but nearly all of the news had a decidedly positive bent.   For Cohen, this protective armor provided a safe harbor from pesky critics and biographers, not to mention the everyday man in the street, and better enabled her to get on with her work and also deal with the harsh realities at home with a sick husband and the responsibility of raising two teenagers.  

Yet, Lynne Kramer describes Cohen as “an unusual person, but she was also a fine,
generous and caring human being.”  A lot of people did not know that, she states, “because she was so shy.  I would yell at her before shows, ‘Adele, you’ve got to help and try to tell people what your work is about, a little bit about yourself.’  She wouldn’t do it!  ’No,’ she said, ‘you do it!  I can’t do that,’ she would say.  And so, very often I did it.  It was not fair because she should have revealed her own personality.  She couldn’t do it -- she was very shy as a public person.”  Of course, this is not only the friend speaking, but the gregarious publicist.  
What is revealing about Kramer’s “shy” statement is how it conflicts with other “private person” impressions held by so many of her friends, relatives and art associates.  But Kramer had the distinction of being one of the few individuals who served as both friend and associate to Cohen, and for many years helped shepherd the artist’s work around New York City art galleries.  She was one of Cohen’s closest life-long friends, and perhaps knew deeper aspects about her personality than others who would often grapple with the notion of communicating with her.  

“Adele’s work and personality were so totally different, it was a fascinating experience for me,” Kramer reflects.  “The work was awesome, huge and to me, very avant-garde and emotional.  This was very interesting to me.”   With me, she was much more voluble than she let most people see.  I was very impressed with her work, but I was even more impressed with her as a human being.”  

The “shyness” label  may come as a surprise to Cohen friends and associates, who sometimes suffered the stings of her playful but often sarcastic wit.  For the artist, though, the issue of whether or not to communicate one’s feelings about his or her art is problematic, and can tread on dangerous ground.  “Telling what your work is all about,” in Kramer’s terms, would be difficult for a private person, but even more difficult for a private or “shy” artist who chooses not to divulge information.  

Some artists are adamant about not communicating but not consistent.  British artist David Hockney, for example, said, “It is very good advice to believe only what an artist does, rather than what he says about his work...people interested in painting might be fascinated by an artist’s statements about his work, but I don’t think one can rely on that alone to learn about an artist’s work, which is all trial and error.”  The formidable task is left to the viewer.  Hockney then wrote his autobiography and told all!                    

This is the issue of communication in the visual arts world.  Other artists find it hard to speak about their work, and Cohen is no different.  “Conversations are difficult for me,” she told Linda Enke in Lilith Magazine, “I communicate better through my work.”  

And Cohen once wrote, “Words about art tend to oversimplify.  The only way to tell it, is to show it.  The artist’s ‘inner image’ is a personal signature, visible to those who would see.  I am not an artist of the people.  I do not decorate.  I do not make ‘art.’  I have not only a story to tell, but a philosophy to espouse, but the only way to tell it is to show it. I’m totally non-verbal and can’t glibly tell what I mean, why I do it, how I do it. I just do it and leave it to the mercy of the eye of the beholder to ‘read’ it and interpret it if necessary.  I am not being mysterious or over-magnifying the depth of meaning nor can I over-simplify with words.”   

“She wasn’t much when it came to talking about her art,” Perrone said.  “She may have felt that there was not much to be gained, or that she wasn’t that clear about it, or it may have been something she felt personal about, maybe even guarding it. I don’t know.”

“As people are confronted with new creative art,” Cohen wrote, “they are apt to think or ask for the key or explanation of its understanding.  If it is easily explained it is more
likely to be a shallow effort, lacking the mystery and depth of good and great art.  I
know it is the ‘fashion’ that artists explain their work and they often talk about or around it instead of merely stating that it is a particular art form.  If the ‘message’ of the piece can be explained in words, the artist may be working in the wrong art form.  The
work presents itself and the viewer must work to gain the knowledge within.  The work is a catalyst for change, a beginning for viewer and artist.”

Quoting Camus -- “The true work of art is the one that says less” -- Cohen wrote, “The
decisive statement in a work of art can be the untold one.”  She implores the viewer to “listen, look and stretch your imagination.  It elongates your life and insures what you
have in life will never be boring.  Don’t bring your conceptions to art, but let the art ‘talk’ to you.  Art is a religion, the personal version of heaven and hell.”

Tracy Kassman saw two sides to Cohen’s personality.  “On the one hand,” she said, “she was incredibly charming and witty and warm.  On the other hand, she was also very reserved and interior.  A lot of her work dealt with interior things.  It was an interesting combination of a person who really knew her mind, in sort of a quiet way, though.  She wasn’t a person who liked yelling and screaming.  She just would say right to your face, quietly, ‘Well, gee, that’s ridiculous.’  And I really enjoyed that about her.”  

“Adele had this kind of stoic thing about her, as deep and interior as her work was.  I don’t think she spent a lot of time thinking about herself.  She just said, ‘Well, let’s just move on.’  I don’t know if that’s the best to way to do it or not, but that’s just the way she
did it.”

Cohen was a favorite of all members of her extended family.  Her “private” persona did not bother them any more than the darkness in her art did, though few understood fully either one.  Most felt that the darkness and the quiet nature went hand-in-hand.  

Cohen’s cousin Shelly Lurie thought she “was a real person, down to earth, natural -- as natural as could be.”  She surmised that being an artist required special understanding on the part of all.  “I’m sure there are lots of things that we don’t know that artists go through,” she said, “and sometimes their creativeness doesn’t come out with other people.  I mean, they have to be private and by themselves; that sort of thing.”  

Cohen paid special attention to all members of her family, frequently visiting out-of-
town relatives and making them welcome to her own home.  She was cherished by all of them and that love was reciprocated.  Privately.   

One of the most difficult things to do is to paint darkness, which nevertheless has light in it.
Vincent Van Gogh

The 1980’s: Big Buffalo Show, Religion, and More Illness
As colorful as the Totems were in the late 1970’s, Buffalo Courier-Express critic Richard Huntington still could not “shake off the shadow of death and decay.”  “We can hardly return,” he said in reviewing Cohen’s 1979 one person Landscapes and Totems  show at the More-Rubin Gallery in Buffalo, “to the innocent pleasure at looking at mere shape and color.”  

New York critics, however, applauded Cohen’s escape from the plexiglassed imprisoned forms of works like Seven Pillars.  Reviewing her 1980 one person exhibition at the Phoenix Gallery, they welcomed her conversion from dark forms to color.  

Leslie Plummer, writing in New York Arts Journal, said “Cohen’s work is moving and sensitive, yet strong and independent.  Uncompromising in its vision, it is the viewers responsibility to investigate its realm”  He added, “Cohen appears to be issuing a challenge to her viewers to attempt to broaden their attitudes to include such new and innovative ideas as found in her artwork.  It is a challenge to which one is inspired to respond, in light of the visual and psychological impact of her works.”  

New York critic Michael Florescu was also moved by Cohen’s work.  “The lucite boxes are gone,” he exclaimed, “removing any barriers to empathy, no longer any prohibition to touch and be touched.  If those earlier pieces inspired thoughts about disease and decay,” he said, “the more recent works, while continuing the theme of pain, engenders a radically different effect.”  
“To begin with, where the earlier pieces carried suggestions of having taken place underground, in dank concealed recesses unpenetrated by the light of day, the recent works have a bleached look, as if they had lain many months in the blazing sun, and had been brushed free of sand.  There is also about them a suggestion of survival.  There is the look of flesh, of cartilage and musculature, and it is healthy, not diseased flesh.  The spectator is led to a sense of cleanliness, a sense that Cohen has been exploring the realm of sunlight.”  

“In our consideration of the art of Adele Cohen,” Florescu concludes, “exposure to light should be taken to signify exposure to public gaze as much as the evolution of ‘enigmatic forms.’  By making public her particular private mythology, she has illuminated not only her own forms but the enigmatic intentions of her peers.”

Cohen, energized by the renewed vibrancy of the New York City exhibition and approvingly echoed by critics who saw her work, finally, in the proper perspective, was primed for what was perhaps the most important recognition of her artistic lifetime: the
1981 retrospective at the Burchfield Center at the State University College at Buffalo.  

The exhibition, called “The Inner Image, Adele Cohen, 1960-80” was curated by Ethel
Moore.  Edna M. Lindemann, then-Director of the Center, placed Cohen in good company when, in her preface to the catalog, she stated that Cohen was “the ninth
recipient of such a Community Tribute Exhibition.  Others artists who have been so honored are Charles Burchfield, Robert Blair, Harold Olmsted, Virginia Cuthbert, Philip Elliott, Martha Visser’t Hooft, Edwin Dickinson and Allan D’Arcangelo.”  Lindemann also gave Perrone credit “for the special talent he has lent to the presentation of the artist’s work and to the exhibition.”

The exhibition spanned two decades of work with nearly one hundred pieces, encompassing a cross-section of Cohen’s diverse artistic contributions in painting, sculpture, drawing, lithography, and wall reliefs.  Cohen told Ethel Moore, in Moore’s
“Inner Image” essay for the exhibition, that her art has been a continuous narrative, divided into chapters or sections, “my own Arabian Nights.”  

“This exhibition,” Moore wrote, “reveals a full view of Adele Cohen’s inner vision and the central themes to which she has remained faithful over the years as well as her wide variety of approaches that revitalize the statements as she progresses with unique inventiveness through the chapters of her story.”
One Buffalo critic, though, continued to spin a sullen and perplexing aura around Cohen’s work.  Buffalo Courier-Express writer Richard Huntington -- or an alarmed headline writer -- composed “Horror Permeates Exhibit” at the top of his March, 1981 review of the Burchfield retrospective.  Cohen “wears her horror on her sleeve,” Huntington reported, “and makes the horror, sleeve and all, the basis for her art.  Some people worry about this (Mr. Death) all the time and can become pretty morose.” “Beauty is the necessary counterweight,” he said.  
Huntington notices that “Goya’s skies in his ‘Disasters of War’ are a lovely, grainy gray, no matter what hideous event is taking place beneath them.”  He admired Cohen’s paintings in earlier, one-dimensional times and regretted her discovery of “chicken wire, cheesecloth and some modern plastic materials which allowed a three-dimensional rendition of her spooky vision.”  “The sculptures and reliefs,” he said, “look like an hysterical expression of chronic gloom.”  

Critic George Howell of the Buffalo Evening News, while acknowledging Cohen’s preoccupation with dark imagery, expressed admiration for the exhibition.  “The retrospective is a fine statement,” he concluded, “of Adele Cohen’s complex and, at
times, troubling work.  As the recent works show, Ms. Cohen’s talents are still emerging.”  
Jane Marinsky, an artist and close friend of Cohen’s daughter, Tina, wrote an engaging monograph in 1977 called “Adele Cohen, Tracing Her Inner Image,” which later served as a companion piece for the Burchfield exhibition.  In it, Marinsky highlights the core of Cohen’s artistic intent: “Throughout the process of working, a synthesis of intellectual, emotional, physical and unconscious activity, the artist is sensitive to discovery.  The inner image, the soul, remains constant.”  

To illustrate her point, she quotes from John Ashbery, the poet: “I have a feeling that in my mind is an underground stream...that I can have access to when I want it.  I want the poetry to come out as freshly and unplanned as possible, but I don’t want it to be stream of consciousness...there is more to one’s mind than the unconscious.  I have arranged things so that, as the stream is coming out, I make a number of rapid editorial changes.  I don’t have it mapped out before I sit down to write.”  

Cohen apparently follows Ashbery’s credo.  She told Marinsky, when asked at what point the “inner image” comes out, replied “There is no set way which I can state or verbalize exactly how I work or at what level I start, because after awhile either the material takes over or the intellect takes over.  I get an idea and the idea might come from just sitting still and thinking about what I’m really doing, or it may come from doodling...and emerge.  The most unsuccessful things I’ve done are those things that I’ve completely thought through before starting to work.  I think that the reason for that is I have become bored with it, because I’ve already thought it through and done it in my head.”         
“I can only speculate about Adele’s ‘inner image,’ Wes Olmsted said.  “Perhaps she, like many other artists, used her work to excise the demons out of her psyche.  She may have used her work to talk about the world she lived in, which may have been more difficult for her than she let on.  Certainly her physical problems must have impacted on her work. Yet, in the end, I saw paintings full of strength, color and purpose.  Only the final illness stilled her brush.”

Cohen’s breast cancer in the 1980’s did little to interrupt her artistic stream of work.  
After the mastectomy and subsequent breast reconstruction, she continued as if nothing had happened; a spirit of invincibility that impressed even those who knew her
Wes Olmsted was one of those people.  In a humorous drawing, he designed a military-style “training bra” that he presented to Cohen following her operation.  It included a Pac Man video game, reflector and flashing yellow warning light for nipples, a Mae West pull-cord for inflating, a zip lock bag for storing brandy/milk, and an AM-FM radio.       
Cohen’s cousin in Cleveland, Shelly Lurie, whom she often visited for Passover,
remarked that Cohen never complained about herself or her illnesses.  “She came to Cleveland for the mastectomy and was very quiet about it.  We used to feel badly for her, but she didn’t feel badly about herself.  She had everything wrong with her.  She had arthritis in her fingers, her hands were crippled and deformed, and she had lots of problems with her body.  She took many medications.  And I never knew this, but Ben would tell me, or someone would tell me.  She never talked about it.  She never complained about hurt, or anything.” But following the successful mastectomy operation, Cohen was proud that she was able to have it done and expressed her triumph. It was typical of Cohen to trumpet, however quietly, victory over adversity and to let her closest friends and relatives feel the resonance.

Another Cleveland cousin, Selma Bayer, recalls Cohen as “keeping to herself in the early visits to Cleveland.  “I wouldn’t say she wasn’t friendly...but in later years it was a
different Adele, and she seemed happier and more outgoing.  I think Ben changed her, because she wasn’t like that in the beginning.  Ben, Adele, Henry and his daughter Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) would often come to Cleveland for Passover, and Adele was very happy about those occasions.”  Everybody adored “Lizzie” and that may have been a
factor, as well.  

In 1987, Cohen turned once again to a Biblical theme: the Ten Plagues, a series of color etchings inspired by the Passover story.  Each of the etchings represented one of the plagues sent to Pharaoh as a punishment for refusing to let the Israelites leave Egypt: blood, frogs, vermin, beasts, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the first-born.  

Cohen told Rebecca Ritchie of the Buffalo Jewish Review that she was “very disappointed with whatever Jewish education I had.  I went to Sunday school in that limbo time when they didn’t give girls much.  I went from first through sixth grades in Sunday school and every year they started us in the same place.”  “Perhaps in consequence,” Ritchie reported, “she is hesitant to be labeled a ‘Jewish’ artist, while admitting that religious themes permeate her work.  The Plagues, for example, evolved from Ms. Cohen’s dissatisfaction with the representational drawing which illustrate most contemporary Haggadah.  She set out to create images as aesthetically intriguing as the food and music traditional to Passover.”

“The etching which caused the most technical problems was ‘Frogs,’ Cohen told Ritchie. “I had a very big problem keeping them abstract.  No matter what I did, they came out looking like frogs, and it is very hard not to make frogs funny.  They’re so bulbous.  I finally abstracted a picture of dissected frogs.”  Now Cohen is into her element, her foremost expertise.  “The resulting image,” she said, “suggests the knobby flesh and desiccated spine of one of the swarm of amphibians which ‘reached even into the ovens and kneading bowls of the Egyptians.’”  

On a more pragmatic level, Cohen chose red for Hail, “recalling a hail storm she once experienced in Texas which was so violent that it damaged her car,” she told Ritchie. ‘Afterward,’ Cohen said, ‘the sky was red.’”  

The suite of hand printed etchings was originally shown as an exhibition in Cohen’s
studio space in 1985.  The Amherst Jewish Center hosted an exhibition in 1987, and the work subsequently traveled to Jewish community centers in major cities across the United States and Canada.
Victor Shanchuk perceives Cohen’s work as a kind of storytelling medium in the visual
arts.  “When you look at the Ten Plagues, you can see how very concerned she was with man’s inhumanity to man, the changes in human behavior and thought patterns --
and how she dealt with it in her work; how Adele would try to tell stories.  When you engaged her in conversation, she was very deeply concerned about aspects of human behavior.  It was also noticeable in the Story Poles,” Shanchuk said, “creating a different kind of language.  I felt that she was dealing with the helplessness of the individual, in dealing with the human mind.”  

In the Story Poles, other sculptural pieces, and even paintings, Shanchuk sees a repetition of bone, skins and sinew that represent human suffering and “the forces of nature.  She was always dealing with inner aspects of humanity.”

“An artist can hide in the social sense,” Cohen said, “and your works are your personal hiding place. But you are also saying, “Look at my work, seek and find me, listen to me and pay attention, hear my story! There is glory in everything!”
Shanchuk said Cohen wanted the viewers, as individuals, to react to her work “because she wanted them to think about the images that she was dealing with, and also to get them to think about themselves.”

”The work presents itself,” Cohen wrote, “and the viewer must work to gain the knowledge within. The viewer must persist, not only in viewing one piece again and again, but assaulting the ‘intellect of the eye’ with whatever art is available. By refining his knowledge of art and learning to bring his own unique experience to play, the viewer seeks to solve the mystery of the artist’s vision.”

“We are a people who must categorize and label to order our thoughts from birth to death. The artist as he creates ‘disorders’ life with the ‘new’ and is a valued link to the ‘eternal.’ The viewer must think, look and listen, absorb and interpret to accommodate this newness into his own scheme of intelligence. The work is a catalyst for change, a beginning for viewer and artist. From this will come the understanding that we want, but never the complete answer. That mystery lies within the depths of our creation.”

“Adele wasn’t a religious woman,” Arlene Siegel said, “when you talk about religion on
a day-today basis -- going to church or anything like that.  But she had a different kind of depth and perception of what religion was.  She had her own idea of what it was all about and it always surprised people because no one realized she was ‘religious.’  She did honor certain Jewish holidays.  She did that initially when the children were small because she wanted them to have the knowledge of the holidays.”  
“But she didn’t believe in formalized religion.  She didn’t even make the pretext of going to the synagogue.  But as she grew older, I think she had more of an understanding.  Now, if she hadn’t read the bible or done a lot of reading, how did she know about the Plagues?  So, she also must have been brought up with a religious background.  I know her mother was a Zionist, so that may have inadvertently found its own path in her.  My guess is that her father, Teddy, was not strictly a religious man; he was happy-go-lucky.”  

“I have ordered the book, ‘How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist’ and you should have your copy before the first of September.”  
Richard L. Bloch, Cohen’s agent, in a letter to Cohen (August 14, 1984)

Rejection and the Last Big Show
Significant accomplishments for Cohen followed in the wake of the Burchfield retrospective, but for an artist -- especially one of Cohen’s caliber and considering her advanced artistic age --  a New York “big gallery” show would have been, in Ben Perrone’s estimation, the perfect climax to an otherwise distinguished career.  To his mind, that level of recognition would have put the final stamp of credibility on a lifetime of artistic achievement.  It never happened.

Cohen, with a succession of agents, shopped  the art gallery circuit on New York’s 57th Street and the Soho, pounding on door after door, searching in frustration for the elusive Golden Grail of Art.  All the dealers displayed curiosity, leafing quickly through Cohen portfolios, slides, and press clippings; the necessary game of placating aspiring artists with glimmers of hope.  In courteous but evasive farewells, they suggested to Cohen and her agents venues in cities such as Harrisburg or Albany.  

For a serious and dedicated elderly artist, these repudiations would seem daunting.  Not for Cohen.  “Don’t be discouraged,” she told the agents, “let’s have a nice dinner somewhere and relax.  But tomorrow we’ll hit Tribeca -- did you think I’d let you off that easily?”  As an artist who was branded as someone obsessed with formidable dark things, all negatives were forbidden in Cohen’s world because her personal agenda was different from all others, including art people, critics, and the public.  Nothing, it seemed, could derail her mission.
Tracy Kassman liked Cohen because “there wasn’t any pretense with her.  She was just a pretty genuine person, with high standards, and very dedicated to her art.  She didn’t give a crap about what anybody said about what her art was about, what the galleries thought, or what the reviews were.”  

Ben Perrone said he never saw her dejected, and he thinks “that’s because she knew that her art had value, she knew that in her heart, and never questioned it.  It was a source of strength and gave her power, the kind of power to be courageous in a land of philistines.” She had her disappointments but they didn’t get the best of her.  She always had her art to fall back on and it never let her down.”
“Painting is like being in love,” Cohen wrote, “there’s no stopping it.  It’s like having an affair with life; a compulsion that drives you to continue even though rebuffed, refused or rejected.  In spite of that rejection you decide to continue, you know who you are and will be an artist (no one can tell you) and you can’t turn yourself on and off.”

In 1988, Cohen was invited to participate as artist-in-residence at Yaddo, a working
community for artists, writers and composers in Saratoga Springs, New York.  She was one of four visual artists selected for the fall season of that year.  

Cohen expressed her feelings in a letter to the President of the Yaddo Foundation. “There comes a time,” she said, “even for the mature artist, when one needs to reach out for something that veers from the normal routine.  I feel I have reached a point where two associations are strongly needed: to spend time with others who are totally interested in the arts, and to be away from my present environment in a totally artistic setting.  Yaddo seems to be such a place.”

The Yaddo experience produced a series of oil pastel and collage works on paper called, appropriately, the Yaddo Series.  Colorful in the extreme for Cohen, they formed an integral part of the 1989 exhibition hosted by The Poetry/Rare Books Collection at the University of Buffalo.  This important show was, like the Burchfield exhibition in 1981, a showcase for Cohen’s versatility and mastery of technical detail. But, most compellingly it was -- in the words of Collection Director and Cohen Curator Robert Bertholf -- “a determined spiritual journey.”  
Victor Shanchuk was surprised that this later work did not revert to Cohen’s “macabre and morbidity” style.  One would think he said, that it “would reflect the many illnesses suffered by Cohen, or maybe this (the colorful oil pastels) counteracted what she was going through physically.”   

But as strong as the Yaddo Series was -- and the larger oil pastels on paper which
followed -- the focus of the exhibition was centered on the seminal oil on canvas work of 1966, David’s Lament, and all the drawings and sketches associated with the work.  

“The cry, the lament here is for creation,” Bertholf exclaims in his preface to the catalog, “a rebirth into definition in the midst of great human pain.”  He notes that “not all the drawings were made before the painting.  The ones which come after it make a commentary on the painting, driven as they are by the same powerful emotions.  The process of creating the image is not instigates still other images.”

The exhibition, which also featured past Cohen work, such as drawings and shaped canvasses, provoked Buffalo News art critic Richard Huntington to speculate on the nature of Cohen’s “expressionism,” citing the adage “that classicism conceals while
expressionism reveals.”  David’s Lament and the eight drawings and sketches that
accompany it are the basis for Huntington’s decree about her expressionistic tendencies. He describes David’s Lament: “A painful image... a reclining figure, featureless and stretched like a victim on the rack...with one enlarged, claw-like hand reaching forward in an imploring gesture.”  
But when encountering the Yaddo Series work, Huntington said Cohen “breaks the old formula and conceals as much as she reveals.  These pieces are abstractions looking for the angst of the modern figure,” which Huntington feels is a “retreat from an earlier hardy expressionism.”

Ben Perrone remarked that “Huntington’s ‘reveal and conceal’ statement applies to only good artists.  It has to do with mystery.  To be creative is to transverse the known to get to the unknown.  It’s a mysterious and never complete journey.  In its revelation there is also the unrevealed mystery or mystique, the remnants of which remain partially hidden in the work.  Like wet autumn leaves telling a story of past summer and coming decay.”  

“The best paintings are those that have this mystery, which is to ‘reveal and conceal.’ Whatever inspired Adele she was able to ingest and absorb.  It became her blood, her neurons, her synapses, whatever.  It eventually energized her art.”

Wes Olmsted thought Cohen’s paintings in the exhibition “were some of her most successful works.  They (the Yaddo Series and the larger works) are satisfyingly rich in color.  I was surprised and glad to see the use of strong color.  To me it was her celebration of her painting that she had worked for, for so long.  A feeling that she was freed from the past limits that she had placed on her work.”

In an interesting 1982 exhibition in Buffalo held at the Artists Gallery, the 25-year history of the Art Institute of Buffalo was celebrated featuring old and new works from some of the past participating members.  The organization, which ceased operations in 1956, was comprised of students, teachers and guest artists, such as Charles Burchfield, Edwin Dickinson, Robert and Jeannette Blair, Andrew Wyeth, David Alfaro-Siqueiros, Walter Prochownik, Joseph Orffeo, Catherine and James Koenig, Charity Roberts, Jean Henrich, among other international, national, and regionally respected artists.  Adele Cohen was one of the participating members.  

Each artist submitted two works for exhibit, one made while the artist was associated with the Art Institute, and the second made in the last year or two.  Anthony Bannon, the critic from the Buffalo News, cited the exhibition’s representation of “vigorous, muscular realism of the American 30's and 40's, such as in paintings by Adele Cohen from 1949.” “Her work,” he said, “and that of Orffeo and Walter Prochownik, show the greatest and most accomplished growth.”  

But Bill Branche, the reviewer from the Courier-Express, took the comparisons between individual artistic periods to another level.  He was more interested in “the
correspondences that are less obvious, those which are all but invisible.”  

“Adele Cohen,” Branche said, “is perhaps the most interesting of these artists a generation ago and today.  She painted ‘Newsboy’ in 1949 in a realistic fashion, and
her 1980 untitled work is a terse, tight abstraction that faintly suggests a nautilus shell -- as different  as could be from ‘Newsboy.’  One could hardly have foreseen the latter in the former, but the reined-in energy, rigorous control and an exquisite sense of form are constants in the two pictures.”

Cohen returned to the Chesterwood National Trust Site again in 1986 and 1990 with sculptural Story Pole installations.  In the earlier on-site work, she created a twelve foot high bronze version of the poles, which was elegantly placed on a green lawn in front of one of the stately buildings.  Later, in 1990, in an installation she called Sassacus, Cohen chose the surrounding woods as the setting for her standard poles, which utilize paper, canvas, burlap, paint and fibrous materials.  

The poles competed for nature’s attention as they leaned against -- and at times soared into -- large trees, before cascading in an arc-like fashion down hillsides.

The Boston Globe reported on this colorful outdoor apparition.  “Adele Cohen’s ‘Story Poles” are tall spears, some wrapped with bedraggled cloth.  Two of them flank a pathway in the woods, framing the scene.  Others nest in tall trees, climb the trunks, parade down a hill and fall, domino-like, into a heap.  Although they form a chorus, each spear has an individual voice; you feel like you’d like to hear the tales they have to tell.”    
The Chesterwood people have their own story to tell about the poles.  “They can be literally read in two ways,” the Cohen brochure states.  “From the boughs down they can represent the destruction of the Indian Nation, but rereading them from the formal pile at the bottom of the hill, they can symbolize a phoenix like resurrection as they ascend and merge, mankind and nature in harmonic unity.”
Perrone’s commemorative poem about the poles, Sassacus, reads, in part: they rain in from the trees / as if frozen in time / over this stained spot precipitates a wail / a hollow echoed cry not of this time / but of this place.

The wild geese were passing over...There was an infinite cold passion in their flight, like the passion of the universe, a proud mystery never to be solved.
Martha Ostenso, Wild Geese (1925)

The Final Work: The Wind Beneath Her Wings
The late Houston art benefactor, Dominique de Menil, believed that art lifted humanity above daily existence and lived her entire life by that standard.  “It makes us more
human,” she said, “more refined, and even more intelligent.”  George Bernard Shaw put it more harshly when he noted that “without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
Adele Cohen certainly molded her life in multiple identities as artist, mother, housewife, and lover, but it was her devotion to a lifetime of art that drove her, that enabled her to rise “above daily existence” and “the crudeness of reality.”  Many artists find it difficult to juggle so many balls successfully, and perhaps it was not as simple as Cohen let on to her friends and relatives.  

Perrone reduces the difficulty considerably by noting how “normal” life was for Cohen. “Adele’s life and mine,” he stated, “though intertwined, were much different.  She was much more anchored living in a house that she would eventually die in, a place of beauty and serenity.  I think she was very content with her life, painting every day and I mean every day.  She knew how lucky she was, I’m sure.”

Though Cohen had nearly thirty one person shows in her career, the 1989 exhibition at the Poetry/Rare Books Collection at the University of Buffalo was the last.  Following that exhibition, however, she maintained her presence throughout the 1990’s in many group shows, including galleries and museums in Buffalo, New York, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and at the International Festival of Women Artists in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“I have no shows or installations coming up,” Cohen told her good friend and Yaddo colleague, Mary Hart, in 1991.  “Must be my off year.  For the first time in this long career I have sold a lot of work!  It’s frightening -- my work must have become decorative.”

In 1996, Cohen wrote to Hart, “I’m putting together packets of my latest work to send out to what I hope will bring me some money, shows or both.  With the state of the Art Market and the fact that my ‘aesthetic’ is really too slick for the ‘new’ and not well known enough for the established galleries, puts me between a rock and a hard place. It’s all so cyclic that I should sit back and just wait for the next wave.”

Cohen’s work in the 1990’s took on yet another complexion, with mostly oil pastel works on paper, large and small, that were characterized by souring images of soft umber and red hues, set in a background of open spaces.  The effect was dramatic and inspirational in nature: an opening of the clouds, a rebirth, a spiritual awakening.

More health problems surfaced for Cohen in this decade as she underwent two back operations for cracked vertebrae over a thinned-down disk that put pressure on her leg nerves.  She also suffered from the aggressive pain of arthritis in her hands. But the health of Cohen deteriorated even more, as the years wore on.

On August 9th, 2002, Perrone sent an e-mail to all of Cohen’s relatives and friends, which read in part: “My heart is sick and I cry.  It looks like Adele has gotten cancer of the liver and pancreas.  It could be very virulent and happen quickly, which may be a blessing in disguise.  Let me warn you mates it’s not like losing a parent.”

In her final days, two large, unfinished works were lain flat on Cohen’s studio table.  
They resembled the oil pastel works previously described, but for one exception: in the center of each piece was a bird, once alive, in varying stages of decay. The mottled feathers, bones and blood of these creatures, with their heads and beaks turned upward, seemed critically integral to the sweeping imagery of the works.  Upon viewing, one was left stunned and grieved simultaneously, and emotionally wrought.  It’s only on departure that a feeling of self-prophesy washes over one’s mind, a strange sensation of witnessing an artist’s apocalyptic vision.

They were Cohen’s last works of art.

Perrone talks about the work.  “Yes, the last two paintings were forecasts of her death.
Having found two remnants of birds could also have been an omen, but she made art out of death, something that had been her theme earlier.  More than a theme it was her very essence.  She was so powerful she could turn death back into life through art.   Adele faced her own death with calmness and a sense of humor that never left her.  She may have seen herself as that bird rising from the ash.”
Throughout her career, Cohen was never influenced by changing art movements or
scholarly interpretations of her work; she forged her own individual style outside the realm of conventional modes.  Her eminently personal imagery explored a diverse range of human emotions, female sexuality, catastrophic histories, native legends and myths and natural organisms.  She was known primarily for her intimate and often dramatic microscopic views into nature and the human condition.  Her striking, mysterious and often dark images alternately stimulated and provoked viewers.  

Reflecting on this, Cohen once said: “To concentrate exclusively on the moments of complete and perfect beauty is to ignore the totality of life, the never-ending rejuvenation of the world and its creatures.”  

An avid reader and music lover, Cohen often referred to music in the rare occasions she spoke about her work.  “My painting is the dissonance of contemporary music,” Cohen said, “because that’s the time we’re living in.  If the public can and will listen to Mahler, Cage or Morton Feldman, they ought to be able to look at my work without saying ‘why’. They read strong words, see horrendous films and listen to dissonant sound.  The dimension of my work is yet another way of presenting or playing the music; an oratorio of choral as against opera or a tone poem, or any other form of music.  It’s time for strong art that says something!”

Tracy Kassman may have summed up Cohen’s life best, with this simple eulogy: “Adele Cohen was a major player in the art scene, and pretty much a real individual who went her own way.”

“Art is what I do,” Cohen said, “so it must be a reflection of me and my milieu.  I hope it speaks with strength, sees truth and presents it with a sense of all and every emotion.”



Bill Baker
August 19, 2004