b. Normal, IL, 1916–d. 2010
Eleanor Coen was born in Normal, Illinois. Her father was an Irish druggist, her mother German. She waited tables at Marshall Field's to support herself while studying at the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Her teachers there included Boris Anisfeld, Francis Chapin, and Max Kahn, whom she later married. Coen was a printmaker and oil painter, known for her urban landscapes and expressionist style, using heavy impasto and layers of color. She was also well known for depicting children—frequently her own son and daughter. While a student at SAIC, Coen participated in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project in Chicago (assigned to the easel/graphics division), sharing studio space with her husband and other artists on Chicago’s South Side. She was a pioneer in color lithography although it was not taught at SAIC at the time.
Coen graduated in 1941 and won the school’s James Nelson Raymond Traveling Fellowship, which she used to go to Mexico with Max and fellow artist Julio de Diego. She worked at the Taller De Grafica Popular (TGP). Max set up a lithography studio in San Miguel de Allende and taught at the School of the Bella Artes, while Eleanor completed a large mural that still graces a wall in the school courtyard. She was greatly influenced in Mexico by figural style of José Clemente Orozco. Her graphically bold lithograph of The Sea Wall depicts three men working at the docks, conveying a sympathy with labor commensurate to Mexican muralists’ interest in social justice.
The couple returned to Chicago and married in 1942. She taught at SAIC’s Ox-Bow summer school of art in Saugatuck, Michigan, with Francis Chapin. Eleanor and Max painted in San Francisco, Blackhawk Colorado, Santa Fe, and on Martha's Vineyard, where they had a studio and worked during the summers.
Coen’s work appears in many museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. She won numerous prizes including the American Color Print Society in 1953 and the Philadelphia Print Club in 1952.
Coen, Eleanor. Pamphlet file P-05913. Ryerson Library. Art Institute of Chicago.
Illinois Women Artist’s Project, http://iwa.bradley.edu/artists/EleanorCoen.
Komaiko, Jean R. “The Artist—and the Woman” Chicago’s Sunday American (February 25, 1962); accessed on the artist’s website, E. Coen: The Artist and the Woman, www.eleanorcoen.com/
Max Kahn. Eleanor Coen: Contemplating a Roller: Major Print Works, 1936–1960. Essay by Barbara Jaffe. Chicago: Corbett and Dempsey, 2006.