Janet Gwendolyn Smith Art

berthe couch koch

Berthe Couch Koch 1892-1975
Nebraska, Ohio, Minnesota
Landscape Still life and Expressionist style
Oil on canvas and ceramics

Dr. Berthe Couch Koch was born at Columbus, Ohio on October 1, 1892. The date of her birth is recorded in the autobiography at the beginning of her doctoral thesis. This date is correct, although other biographical references report the date as 1899. Koch elementary and secondary education was in the Columbus public schools. In 1910 she graduated from South High School. She was extremely interested in art and psychology.

Admitted to Ohio State University in 1917 and in 1921 received her A.B. Degree. She accepted a position in 1921 at Ohio State University after graduation as a member of the faculty in experimental psychology. Then from 1921-1923 she applied herself to a masters degree at Ohio State University. Under the direction of Dr. Albert P. Weiss, she served as a senior laboratory assistant.

Koch's education directed her to teaching at Ohio State University from 1923-1927. She continued on with her graduate work in Fine Arts and Psychology. Her master's thesis concerned the psychology of color vision. The thesis "Apparent Weight of Colors" was published at Ohio State University. This encompassed her scientific background and landscape painting study.

She studied art at Columbia University at Provincetown, MA under Charles Martin, head of the Fine Arts Department. Then continued her studies under Gifford Beal, at Rockport, MA. Mr. Beal was one of the Presidents of the Art Students League of New York City and an accomplished figure and landscape painter.

Koch enrolled to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in Fine Arts under Professor James R. Hopkins. Mr. Hopkins was the Chairman of the Fine Arts Department. Her doctoral course at Ohio State University was the first degree of this type ever to be conferred in the USA or abroad. The exceptional part of her doctoral thesis was the creation of landscape artwork based upon research. The thesis was titled: The Creation of a Series of Landscape Paintings Original in Conception and Execution, Dissertation presented in Partial Fulfillment for the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Ohio State University 1929. This study was completed under a University Fellowship.

Her thesis consisted of 38 original expressive landscape paintings: Straits Mouth Gap, A Village Street, Willows by the Sea, The Town Beach, Provincetown, The Barren Elm, Autumn Gold, The Old Church-Rockport, Along the Atlantic, Thatcher's Twin Lights, Winter Patter, The Churchyard, Old New England Street, Calla Lilies, Rubrum Lilies, The Atlantic, Rockport Harbor, Bearskin Neck, Roof Tops, An Old Elm, Zinnias, Candle-tree Inn, From the Harbor, New England Antiques, The Old House, Spring, The Mill Pond, Apple Trees, The Doorway, Spring Freshet, Cosmos, The Turn in the Road, Street Scene-Cape Cod, Gables, On the House Tops, The Shack, The Webster House, and The Fish Docks.

The dissertation paintings were completed during four years of landscape study and research. The gallery and museum collections studied and researched totaled 29 and are listed in the dissertation. The galleries & museums exhibited a board body of work created by students and the masters. Her research travels varied from the commercial galleries of the Wildenstein to the academic halls of Harvard's Fogg Museum of Fine Arts. This pioneering project for Graduate School departed from the doctorate procedures. The Graduate Council, President George W. Rightmire and Dr. E. McPherson supported her throughout the project. The oil on canvas landscapes were photographed in the final published form. Today, this dissertation maybe reviewed at The Ohio State University Library, Columbus, Ohio.

The Ohio State University Monthly, "Alumnae Affairs", December 1927, page 118 by Harriett Daily Collins reports Professor Ralph Fanning criticism of the Dr. Koch's exhibition of 23 paintings. The exhibition was presented by the Fine Art Department in conjunction with the artist's doctoral dissertation.

Koch continued to work in progressive education methodology in teaching the fine arts. She also continued to publish articles about the psychology of color vision. She exhibited throughout the country and Leon Kroll, a New York City contemporary artist, critiqued her paintings.

The artist moved to Omaha, Nebraska with her husband Robert Koch in 1932. The Omaha World Herald announced in 1933 the Municipal University of Omaha would open a new school for the fine arts. Dr. Koch headed the fine arts school, which incorporated painting, sculpture and architecture. This meant the university-conferred degrees, graduating students with a bachelor of Fine Art for the first time in its history. Dr. Koch was quoted "Outstanding painters know their physics and chemistry, as well as their techniques and are exceptionally well informed." The Municipal University of Omaha established 1930 by citizen vote, whose name changed to the University of Omaha approximately 1938, and in 1968 the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

In 1936 at the Municipal University, Dr. Koch's fine art department occupied Joslyn Hall's third story. Her office was filled with antiques and treasures from international travels. Other artist's works were throughout her office. These included Leon Kroll's photographs of preliminary mural drawings for the Washington DC, Hall of Justice. Her painting classes worked plein air. In 1935 she introduced sculpturing as an art class. The class experimented with casting in plastic wood not plaster of paris.

Dr. Koch started an Art Lecture series in 1937 at the request of many Omaha women. The lectures were held at the university and consisted of one-hour lecture and one-hour of gallery tours with discussion. She enriched the cultural environment of the community. The lectures topics were varied targeting art appreciation and art history. These classes were open to the public providing university credit or non-credit. She expressed changes in art to the local newspaper, "the modern artist is no longer interested in plaster casts and inanimate models, but are interested in movement and life."

Koch dedicated summers to her art in her Cape Ann studio at Rockport, MA. She collaborated with D'Ascenzo, Gifford Beal, Eric Hudson, Harrison Cady, Leon Kroll and William McNulty during the summers. Dr. Koch and her husband were artists and the local newspapers document their many art travels, art insights and hundreds of color slides taken during their international travels.

Koch started working in ceramics under the influence of Robert Koch; her husband was an accomplished sculptor. He established the department of sculpture and developed the curriculum at the University of Omaha. He did extensive research with Nebraska clay and utilized it in his creations. She exhibited her ceramic work at the International Exhibition of Ceramics, at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts and Los Angeles, and Passedoit Gallery, New York City, NY in 1941.

As the chairman of the art department for the University of Omaha, she was asked in 1943 to assist with the recently established American Art Research council. The councils mission was to create a national catalogue of all outstanding original works of art held in the United States. Dr. Koch headed the survey for Omaha and the surrounding vicinity. During the summer of 1943, she worked with Dr. Charles Harder at the New York State University in Alfred, New York studying rehabilitation using the fine arts. Dr. Koch's goal was to develop an occupational therapy program in fine art for Omaha. The creation of fine art occupied the time of recovering disabled men returning from the war.

Koch retired in June 1958 after serving as head of the art department for the University of Omaha with 25 years of service. She developed curriculum for a bachelor of fine arts degree. She organized and built the fine art department's modern art laboratory. The fall of 1958 she was teaching at Mankato, Minnesota at Mankato State Teachers College. Here she developed the graduate art program. Her husband taught ceramics at Mankato.

Throughout her life Koch continued to publish many articles about science and the visual arts. The publications were Parnassus, College Art Journal, Ceramic Age, Ceramics Industry, and Design.

The artist's works are owned by International Business Machines (IBM) Collection; Passedoit Gallery, NY; Ohio State University; University of Nebraska at Omaha; Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts and private collections in Nebraska.

She received numerous awards: Fellow, Ohio State University 1925-1929; Honorable Mention International Exhibition of Ceramics, Syracuse, NY 1941; Pi Lambda Theta and Sigma Xi. In 1959 she was awarded a John Hay Whitney Foundation visiting professorship, but declined for the opportunity to continue her work at Mankato State Teachers College in Minnesota.

Koch worked in: oil, watercolor, egg tempera, lithography, ceramics and dry point.

During her lifetime she was a member of: American Association of University Professors, College Art Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Midwestern College Art Conference, American Federation of the Arts, Museum of Modern Art, Rockport Art Association, American Ceramic Society and Ohio State University Alumni.

Dr. Koch's academic fine art contributions to the Omaha community and University at Omaha were paramount. These contributions encompassed her life, passion for art, the creative process and higher education in fine art. She created a rich fine art culture for the city, its citizens and the students she educated.

The author wishes to acknowledge the Ohio State University-University Library Archives, Douglas County Historical Society, Omaha World Herald and Joslyn Art Museum Library for their valued contributions to the research of this American artist and educator.

Alumnae Affairs, December 1927, The Ohio State University Monthly, Exceptional Artistic Ability Expressed in Canvasses by Mrs. Koch by Harriett Daily Collins
Dissertation: Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Ohio State University 1929, The Creation of a Series of Landscape Paintings Original in Conception and Execution, Dissertation presented in Partial Fulfillment for the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Ohio State University 1929.
Omaha World Herald, May 20 1932, Dr. Bertha Koch Goes to Cape for Summer
Omaha World Herald, June 5, 1933, E.M., The Woman's Side of It
Omaha World Herald, May 20, 1936, Frances Fore, Municipal University Art Classes Take to Outdoors, Basement Studio
Omaha World Herald, March 20, 1937, Art Lecture Class Formed
Omaha World Herald, March 22, 1937 (AP), Modern Art Subject of Omaha Speaker
Benson Times-Dundee News, June 8, 1938, Dr. Berthe C. Koch PhD Ohio State University, University of Omaha Speaker
Omaha World Herald, March 4, 1943, Mrs. Koch Aids Art Cataloging in Nation
Omaha World Herald, June 30, 1943, Kochs Will Study Ceramics In East
Omaha World Herald, September 25,1953, Koches End Art Junket
Omaha World Herald, May 21, 1958, Four Close O.U. Careers
Omaha World Herald, September 6, 1958, Educators Shun Retired Label
Omaha World Herald, June 6, 1959, No Thanks
Municipal University of Omaha-Biography-Berthe Couch Koch, no Date or author, Douglas County Historical Society, vertical clipping file
Koch, Berthe Couch, Artist Biography, no date or author, Joslyn Art Museum, vertical file

Copyright 2007 Janet Gwendolyn Smith
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Janet Gwendolyn Smith Art