Edie Cohn grew up in the rural Wisconsin town of New Holstein, population 2400. Her first exposure to art was on the covers of her mother’s phonograph records. She was considered the town artist by the time she graduated from high school in 1967. At that point she headed off to California, where she took art classes at Foothill Jr. College and Hayward State University: some of them she loved, some of them she learned from, but she still considers herself a self-taught artist. Her favorite classes and activities at that time involved drawing the human figure in life-drawing classes. A few years after she came to North Carolina in 1974 and had her first child (Travis) in 1976, she organized a life-drawing program at the Carrboro Arts Center, using senior citizens as the models, and that experience turned her focus towards portraiture. She found the challenge of capturing both a likeness and a spirit on paper was a challenge that she would never grow tired of.
She joined the cooperative Center/Gallery in the early 1980s and showed her work extensively with them. Soon she had solo shows at the Durham Art Guild and the Carrboro Arts Center of her portraits of elderly people. After having her second child (Rachel) in 1983, she started doing drawings of newborn babies at Durham Regional Hospital: by now she has done about 3,200 baby portraits for Durham families, including some that go into a second generation.
In the early 1990s, Edie began doing portraits (and then interviews) of homeless people at the Durham homeless shelter, paying each model to sit for her and giving them each a print of the drawing. In 2000 she received a grant from the NC Humanities Council to make a book of these portraits plus excerpts from the interviews. She exhibited this work in many places, including a show at the Durham County Library that involved three forums on homelessness in Durham, which gave homeless people chances to tell their stories and talk with Durham City Council members.
In 2004, after adopting Marlon, a teenager from Nicaragua, Edie began painting vibrant portraits from images taken mostly from her travels—trying to convey in her work a sense of humanity that is shared by all.
In 2015, the birth of a granddaughter with challenging needs took Edie from her work for about two years. Now that her granddaughter is flourishing, Edie expresses herself in collage, working with a palette of the brilliant colors she remembers seeing, as a child, on her mother’s record album covers.