Brian Gallagher, Curator of Decorative Arts at The Mint Museum (left) with Herb Cohen.

A stalwart supporter of the arts and dedicated staff member at the Mint, Herb Cohen provides an oral history of The Mint Museum

Herb Cohen, a well-respected potter, has been a part of the Mint family since the late 1950s and is still an active member of the Mint and the Delhom Service League.  First working with clay at the age of 6 at the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Herb earned two degrees in ceramics at Alfred University before becoming a designer for Hyalyn Porcelain Company in Hickory, North Carolina.

After two years at Hyalyn, he moved to Charlotte in 1958, and immediately became involved with the Mint Museum Drama Guild. He and his husband, José Fumero, a textile artist and painter, designed and built sets and costumes, as well as appearing onstage. This was the beginning of Cohen wearing many hats on the Mint staff, including exhibition designer, ceramics teacher, interim museum director (twice!), and exhibits director. In 1972, he and Fumero moved to Blowing Rock to pursue their art full-time, but never lost touch with the Mint.   

During the 38 years in Blowing Rock, Cohen made his living as a potter, was a founder of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, and served on the boards of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, Piedmont Craftsman, and the American Craft Council. After he and Fumero returned to Charlotte in 2010, Cohen became active with the Delhom Service League and the Potters Market Invitational. In 2012, the Mint celebrated his work with the exhibition, Sophisticated Surfaces: The Pottery of Herb Cohen. 

The following interviews were conducted by Brian Gallagher, curator of decorative arts, and Ellen Show, archivist at Mint Museum Randolph during the summer of 2017. Cohen discusses his career at the Mint Museum, his life as a potter and artist, his experiences with the Mint Museum Drama Guild, and, during a walking tour, describes what the Mint Museum Randolph building was like before and after the 1967 expansion. 

 

Interview 1 – June 12, 2017: Cohen’s roles at The Mint Museum

 

Gallagher talks with Cohen about his years on staff at the Mint Museum, which ran from 1958 to 1972. Cohen began as a volunteer exhibition installer and Mint Museum Drama Guild technician and actor, and went on to become exhibition designer, interim museum director (twice!), ceramics instructor, and exhibits director. 

 

Interview 2 – June 26, 2017: Cohen’s Life in the Arts

Cohen discusses his relationship with the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and its contribution to his studying ceramics at Alfred University, his singing at Madison Square Garden and on Broadway as a child, and his work as a potter in North Carolina. 

 

Interview 3 – July 10, 2017: The Mint Museum Drama Guild

Ellen Show talks with Cohen about his experiences working with the Mint Museum Drama Guild. Highlights of their conversation include stories about Drama Guild founder Dorothy Masterson, and memories of other guild members, including Jan Karon, Leon Rippy, and his husband, artist Jose Fumero. 

 

Interview 4 – Aug. 18, 2017

 

A walk-and-talk through the original staff areas of Mint Museum Randolph. Cohen remembers the spaces as they were in the late 1950s to 1960s. 

 

Interview 5 – Sept. 12, 2017 

 

A walk-and-talk around the original gallery spaces of Mint Museum Randolph. Cohen describes the spaces before and after the 1967 building expansion.