“Sophisticated Surfaces: The Pottery of Herb Cohen” and “The American Art Tile, 1880-1940” will go on view
CHARLOTTE, NC (March 28, 2012) – Two exhibitions celebrating the depth and range of The Mint Museum’s ceramics collections are set to go on view at Mint Museum Randolph from April 7 through January 6, 2013.
Sophisticated Surfaces: The Pottery of Herb Cohen pays tribute to a Charlotte-based artist who has earned a national reputation as a master of his craft ¬– and who happens to be an important figure in the Mint’s own history. “Herb Cohen has long deserved to have his work be the single focus of an exhibition. We are especially pleased to present an in-depth overview of his career this year, in which The Mint Museum celebrates its 75th anniversary, because in addition to being a gifted potter, Herb served on the Mint’s staff from 1959 to 1973,” said Brian Gallagher, the Mint’s curator of decorative arts.
The American Art Tile, 1880-1940 celebrates an art form that peaked during the decades surrounding the turn of the last century. It features approximately 40 tiles from the Mint’s permanent collection, including the permanently installed fireplace surround, Arkansas Traveller.
“With these two exhibitions, the Mint continues to celebrate its status as a leader and innovator in the fields of art, craft, and design,” said Dr. Kathleen V. Jameson, president & CEO of the Mint. “We are particularly gratified to be able to host a solo exhibition for a living Charlotte-based artist as deserving as Herb Cohen.”
Sophisticated Surfaces: The Pottery of Herb Cohen is presented in conjunction with A Thriving Tradition: 75 Years of Collecting North Carolina Pottery, which is also on view at Mint Museum Randolph through January 6. Cohen’s work comprises a cornerstone in the tradition of North Carolina pottery. He is highly regarded as an innovative and extremely influential ceramicist, and has exhibited widely throughout his seven-decade-long career as an award-winning potter and sculptor.
Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Cohen first learned to throw on the potter’s wheel at the remarkably young age of 6. After earning his MFA from Alfred University, Cohen worked as a designer for Hyalyn Porcelain Company in Hickory. He eventually settled in Charlotte in the late 1950s, where he joined the staff of The Mint Museum and was instrumental in spearheading the regional craft and pottery movement. In the 1970s he moved to Blowing Rock to establish his own studio, but returned to Charlotte in 2010, where he remains active in the local arts community.
Throughout Cohen’s career his work has embodied a particular marriage of form and surface, as well as a balance between the formal and the expressive. Following the evolution of Cohen’s career, this exhibition illustrates through forms that range from the functional to the sculptural the inimitable skill and style for which Cohen has become known.
Cohen first learned to throw on the potter’s wheel at the Henry Street Settlement, an innovative community center on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He continued to take classes there throughout his childhood and teenage years. He earned his BFA in 1952 and his MFA in 1956 from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, renowned for its innovative ceramics program, and at the time, the only school of its kind in the country. Cohen’s work there demonstrated technical mastery over industrial applications in ceramics — techniques of mass production utilized in the field of industrial pottery.
In 1973, Cohen left Charlotte to fully devote himself to his craft. With life partner and fellow artist José Fumero, he built a house and studio in Blowing Rock. They named it Studios 2, and over the course of the following 37 years, they successfully maintained their home, studios, and business. Around 2005, Cohen developed a tremor in his hand that would ultimately prevent him from continuing to throw on the wheel; after 70 years of performing the same motion over and over, his muscles simply refused to cooperate anymore. Rather than succumbing to his physical limitation as a disability, he viewed this as a chance to grow as an artist. Cohen turned his attention and creativity towards more sculptural, hand-built works and pushed himself in new directions.
“My first exposure to contemporary craft was the annual shows that Herb organized—this is what inspired me and gave me hope of being a maker. In the 1970s, Herb gave me a spotlight show at the Mint; it was the first great thing that happened to me as young artist,” said fellow celebrated North Carolina ceramicist Michael Sherrill. “Herb is … a person of influence. He was able to do something that was very unique; he has a modernist style of making pots that very few people have—he comes from that post-World War II era reinventing of contemporary craft.”
The American Art Tile, 1880-1940
The turn of the last century was the golden age of the American art tile. Whether glazed or unglazed, molded in relief or smooth-surfaced, decorative tiles were a popular medium among many affluent consumers wishing to furnish their homes and businesses in the latest fashions. The tiles were used as fireplace surrounds, wall hangings, and for a wide variety of other ornamental purposes, both interior and exterior.
This installation features approximately 40 tiles from The Mint Museum’s permanent collection, including the permanently installed fireplace surround, Arkansas Traveller, modeled and designed circa 1916 by Henry Chapman Mercer of Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, Doylestown, Pennsylvania. “This exhibition illustrates the tremendous variety of decorative tiles made by American ceramics manufacturers in the decades surrounding 1900,” said Gallagher.
These exhibitions are organized by The Mint Museum, which is supported, in part, with funding from the Arts & Science Council. For more information, visit mintmuseum.org.
Caption for the attached image: Herb Cohen. American, born 1931. Platter, circa 1996.
Stoneware, 3 ? x 16 ? inches. Private Collection. Photography by Mitchell Kearney.