Indiana University Kokomo is one of Indiana University’s regional campuses and is home to 32 Harris “Misch” Kohn’s works from 1932 to 2002, including “Bull Fight” (1949) and “Medea” (1950), both wood engravings on paper.
After graduating from the John Herron School of Art, Kohn initially sought fame and fortune in New York City, which was in the midst of the Great Depression. He ended up in Chicago where he, as many artists, enrolled in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration to receive a steady salary of $92 per month. The Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which sought to put as many people back to work as possible and boost national morale. The Federal Art Project hired hundreds of artists. They, in turn, created more than 100,000 paintings and murals and over 18,000 sculptures for municipal buildings, schools, and hospitals in all of the then 48 states, in addition to providing art classes for children.
The main benefit of the Federal Art Project for artists was that it allowed them to continue their work and not worry about making a living. It also gave Kohn and other artists the chance to find their mature voices. He started in lithography, painting, and serigraphy, but wood engravings became his passion. He created 16 of them published as a book called Pursuit of Freedom, which featured themes of political freedom, equality, censorship, and violent repression. Like much of his work from the 1930s and 1940s, it reflected the social and artistic trends of his society, as well as a little of Kohn’s own socialist ideology.
From late 1942-1943, Misch Kohn spent a year in Mexico, seeking new ideas and techniques for his art. There, he was a part of the contemporary art world that included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. He worked on a mural with José Clemente Orozco. Kohn also taught lithography at the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the workshop of José Guadalupe Posada. He focused on watercolor while in Mexico, but did create lithographs and wood engravings. He was also influenced by this group of artist’s focus on using art to comment on social issues.
Kohn taught at Institute of Design and Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where he lived for about 30 years. He then moved to Hayward, California, where he taught at California State University, Hayward, from 1972 to 1980. His style, techniques, and subjects continued to evolve as he moved from place to place. His later works focus less on straightforward depictions of social issues and more on abstract explorations of color, light, and even more groundbreaking techniques. Kohn’s work was honored with countless awards. Not only can you find his art in three locations in Kokomo, but museums all over the world also have his art. He received many national and international honors and awards.