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Rena N Coen (Neumann)

Birthdate: (76)
Death: October 28, 2001 (76)
Immediate Family:

Wife of Edward Coen
Mother of Joel David Coen; Ethan Jesse Coen and Private
Sister of Miriam Neumann and Natanya Manson

Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Rena N Coen

Art historian Rena Neumann Coen, whose influential books and lectures on 19th-century Minnesota artists illuminated long-ignored aspects of the state's cultural history, died Thursday at her home in St. Louis Park. She was 76 and had been hospitalized for two months after heart surgery complicated by kidney failure.

"She suffered a lot and the prognosis was terrible," said her daughter, Deborah Ruth Coen, a Minneapolis psychiatrist. "She finally decided that enough was enough and asked to come home."

Coen worked on a new book about Minnesota Impressionist painter Nicholas Brewer until shortly before her death, said Patricia Condon Johnston, head of the Afton Historical Society Press, which published Coen's 1997 "Minnesota Impressionists." Afton Press also interviewed her for a recent TV program it co-produced with Twin Cities Public Television about Seth Eastman, a 19th-century soldier and artist at Fort Snelling.

"She was an incredibly talented and articulate American art historian and a joy to work with," Johnston said.

Like others who knew her well, Johnston said that Coen was "incredibly proud" of her famous sons, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, but that she was very protective of their privacy and her own. Coen once deflected a reporter's questions about her sons by saying, "I go my own sweet ways and don't pay much attention" to the boys' careers.

Born in New York City in 1925, Rena Neumann was the daughter of Russian immigrant intellectuals and grew up speaking Hebrew at home. Her father was an English professor at Brooklyn College, and his father started the first modern Hebrew school in New York City, Deborah Coen said.

Rena graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University in New York City and received a master's degree in art history from Yale University. In 1953, she moved to Minnesota with her husband, Edward Coen, now an emeritus professor of economics at the University of Minnesota. She completed a doctorate in American art history at the University of Minnesota and taught art history at St. Cloud State University for 27 years.

Coen's interest in regional artists was so unusual in the 1960s that "It wasn't just frowned on; you were considered a Neanderthal, a barbarian," she told the Star Tribune in 1997. Her pioneering book "Painting and Sculpture in Minnesota, 1820-1914" identified dozens of Minnesota-connected artists and remains an important reference. She also wrote books on Minnesota painter Alexis Jean Fournier, American artists Edgar and Elsie Payne, and more than a dozen art-themed volumes for children.

"She was a wonderful person, so kind and thoughtful, and a very good scholar who devoted herself to explaining and promoting Minnesota art history," said Evan Maurer, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Besides her husband, sons and daughter, survivors include a sister, Miriam Nidus, and three grandchildren.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 10500 Hillside Lane, Minnetonka. Shiva will be held one night only: 7 p.m. Sunday in the community room at 5901 Laurel Av., Golden Valley.

-- Mary Abbe is at mabbe@startribune.com .

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Rena N Coen's Timeline

1925
February 22, 1925
1954
November 29, 1954
Age 29
Saint Louis Park, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
1957
September 21, 1957
Age 32
Saint Louis Park, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
2001
October 28, 2001
Age 76