When Bill Kohn died of cancer at age 73 on November 13, St. Louis lost a pillar of its art community. The longtime Washington University professor and lifetime St. Louisan will be remembered for his rigorous teaching standards, his generous nature and above all for his dazzling paintings, which brought images of his world travels back to his beloved hometown. Thankfully, St. Louis had the chance to celebrate Kohn's life and work just two years ago, when he was fêted with two simultaneous exhibitions: a show of his Italian watercolors at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art and a 40-year retrospective at the Des Lee Gallery downtown, where the "Kohnheads" of the New Music Circle performed music, dance and poetry in a tribute to the many collaborative works Kohn pursued with them.
Kohn insisted on teaching the fundamentals of Bauhaus color theory at Washington University, and in his own work, joyful color reigned supreme. "When I was the gallery's director, hanging Bill Kohn's works for exhibitions at the early Elliot Smith Gallery on Skinker was always a pleasure," recalls Roseann Weiss, director of community art programs and public art initiatives at the Regional Arts Commission. "Bill's enthusiasm for his newest works was infectious. And when we finished with the installation, the gallery was luminous with color."
Philanthropist and art collector Nancy Kranzberg recalls Kohn as generous and down-to-earth. "Bill loved his wife and he loved life," Kranzberg says, adding, "His studios were always open to the average person -- he was not elitist at all, and even though he had won so many awards, there was not a conceited bone in his body."