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Abe and Ginka Cohn: Fond Memories

Susan Friebert Rossen, May 2020

Abe and Ginka Cohn were significant figures in my life. Ginka—a gifted modern dancer, choreographer and teacher—credited my mother, Betsy Ritz Friebert, with encouraging her to teach, a career she successfully pursued to the end of her life. I remember being her student when I was a pre-teen, dancing in the converted dining room of her Shorewood home.

Door County was the other location that I associate with Abe and Ginka. I remember idyllic vacations there in the 1950s with my parents and sister. Beginning in the 1970s, I regularly took my daughter, Becca, to Door County in the summer. By then, Potter’s Wheel was established, and Becca and I couldn’t wait to go there to see the Cohns. We always arranged at least one dinner date. They’d cook for us; we’d cook for them. Becca made at least one pot on Abe’s wheel. Becca and I both regularly attended Ginka’s dance classes—held in a large room with big windows and a wood floor in Fish Creek’s former town hall. Eventually, Becca became a professional modern dancer and later a dance historian.

From left to right: Abe Cohn, Susan F. Rossen, Ginka Cohn, Becca Rossen, Fish Creek, 1989

Ginka was a partner to Abe in so many ways. She helped him pick the pottery by others that they sold in the gallery. They traveled to the Southwest in the winter to buy Native American pottery for themselves and to sell. She hired shop assistants. She created the displays. She took care of publicity. All of this allowed Abe to do what he loved most and did best: make pots, mentor younger potters, and occasionally teach.

We loved hanging out at the Potter’s Wheel. Ginka held forth as the shop’s public face. And what a face she was: always smiling and ready to laugh, interested in every customer, sharing engaging information on every piece and every ceramic artist whose work the Cohns featured.

Ginka and Abe loved my father, the artist Joseph Friebert, and he them. Once, just once, when Becca and I had taken him to Door County, we persuaded him to attend Ginka’s dance class for seniors, for which she provided the students with chairs. I have a wonderful memory of my father, then in his eighties, sitting on a chair, waving his arms to recorded music. In 2005, three years after my father died, Ginka and Abe staged an exhibition of works by him and by my mother. I don’t recall anything selling, but that didn’t seem to matter.

Abe and Ginka Cohn with Joseph Friebert, Milwaukee Art Museum, 1989

Becca and I will always treasure another ritual we had with Abe and Ginka: going first for an ice-cream cone at the world’s best custard stand and then to a small beach in Fish Creek to watch the sunset over Green Bay. Ginka and Abe always held hands, their faces lit by the deep crimson-orange light of dusk. They fit together like a hand and glove, but they never took that closeness for granted. Their deep love was always palpable. They showed Becca and me what is possible when two creative people, devoted to their own art and admiring and supportive of the other’s creativity, develop a passion for each other and for what they do, an enduring partnership that not only enriches their lives and work but becomes a gift to all who are lucky enough to know them.

Susan F. Rossen comes from an artistic family. She is a daughter of Joseph Friebert (1908–2002), a celebrated Milwaukee-based artist and educator, and Betsy Ritz Friebert (1910–1963), who cut short a promising career in art to support her husband’s and to raise her family. Her sister, Judith Friebert, is also an artist. With a B.A. and M.A. in art history, Rossen went into art-museum work as an educator, curator, and finally as a publisher. She spent her career in two museums: The Detroit Institute of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago. In “retirement” she became a consultant on publishing and continues to edit books on art and culture.