Records of Dorothy Irene Smith Kohlhepp’s artistic career are minimal and, most often, connect her work to the more widely-documented achievements of her husband and fellow artist, Norman Kohlhepp. Ironically, Norman, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, and World War I veteran, began his professional life as an engineer and pursued painting largely at Dorothy’s encouragement. After meeting in Paris, the couple married, traveled extensively, and created paintings that were, at times, very similar.

Dorothy Kohlhepp was born in Boston and studied for four years at the Massachusetts College of Art, followed by a brief enrollment at the Arts and Crafts Club in the Vieux Carré in New Orleans. In 1933, she began her studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris where André Lhote was her primary instructor. The prominent French painter’s Cubist approach clearly impacted Dorothy’s aesthetic development, as it did for many of the other Southern artists he taught, including Dorothy’s future husband Norman, Blanche Lazzell, Margaret Law, Josephine Couper, and Edith London.

Upon their return to the United States, the Kohlhepps settled in Louisville. They became very active in local art circles, and Dorothy served as president (1940–1941) and then vice-president (1942–1947) of the Art Center Association School. Both artists were regularly represented in exhibitions at the J.B. Speed Art Museum; a brochure dating to 1948 notes how that year’s installment marked the tenth anniversary of their first shared showing at the museum. The text went on to explain how many of the Kohlhepps’ paintings then on view reflected a recent trip to France. In describing “these glowing prismatic colors in flat planes bounded by emphatic curves and straight lines are related to postwar trends in some ateliers of Paris,” the brochure copy underscores Lhote’s example. Dorothy Kohlhepp’s preference for nudes rendered in a Cubist manner also mirrors contemporary French practice. The 1948 exhibition guide lists twenty-two oils on canvas and ten oils on paper by her with titles suggesting a mix of landscape and figure subjects. The Louisville area landscapes were thought to “express somewhat their thankful joy for a homeland physically untouched by war.”