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Fired Up: The Pottery of Abe Cohn

Introduction

Robin-PDF-2-1

Paying tribute to a man who taught, encouraged and flamed the creative spark of countless individuals was what blues musician and clay enthusiast Steve Cohen had in mind when he shared his idea for an online exhibit about renowned Wisconsin potter, Abe Cohn. With Steve’s collection of Abe Cohn’s work and recollections of the iconic pottery mentor as a jumping-off point, other of Abe’s friends and family members shared their memories and photographs of his work.

After serving in WWII, Abe, a visionary and pioneer, opened his first studio in Milwaukee in 1953, The Potter’s Wheel, and married his wife Ginka in 1954. In the summer of 1956, they established the first pottery studio in Fish Creek, laying the foundation for Door County to become a renowned destination for potters and pottery fans alike. Following a fire in 1975, the Milwaukee branch of The Potter’s Wheel found a new home in an old warehouse shared by the Milwaukee School of Art and Design. After years of maintaining both locations, founding the seminal Door County Potter’s Guild in 1976, and spending solely summers in Fish Creek, Abe and Ginka moved there in 1994, making the Door Peninsula their permanent home.

Along the way, he received several awards including the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award (1958) and a Smithsonian Institute Purchase Award for its 7th Annual Exhibition of Ceramic Art (1961). In 1964, Abe was granted the first one-man show by a craftsman at the new Memorial Art Center in Milwaukee – the precursor to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which has several pieces of Abe’s in its permanent collection. In 2010, Abe received the Wisconsin Visual Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Following a lifetime of prolific creative productivity and inspired guidance, Abe died in May 2013, leaving a legacy to students, collectors and other artists. A number of those people provided information and materials to make this online exhibit possible. I would like to thank Steve Cohen (Milwaukee), Robin Cohn, Tamar Cohn, Jon Cohn, Steve Cohen (California), Dick Woppert and Greg Miller for their contributions.

Molly Dubin
Curator, Jewish Museum Milwaukee


My Time with Abe Cohn

By Steve Cohen

Snapshot of potters at The Potter’s Wheel, in Milwaukee, 1978. (Left to right)
Steve Cohen, Ivy Balian, Joan Backes-Sills, Ginka Cohn, Abe Cohn, Greg Miller, Dick Woppert. Image courtesy of Steve Cohen.

I was among the many potters who passed through the doors of Abe’s two studios. I was 24 years old and had briefly operated my own pottery studio a few blocks away from The Potter’s Wheel. My studio was also destroyed by fire shortly before the fire at The Potter’s Wheel. I had been buying some supplies from The Potter’s Wheel during this period, and though this had been the extent of my association with Abe at the time, I was one of many who helped him relocate. It was the beginning of what became an important period in my life.

When his new studio was set up, I became an apprentice to Abe. One of the other potters working in the studio at the time was Greg Miller. Through Greg and Abe, as well as another associate potter, Dick Woppert, I absorbed great information about potting, glazing, kilns, firing, aesthetics and expression, and in exchange, I helped sell supplies, taught some classes and helped with the day-to-day upkeep of the studio. Greg, Dick and I remain friends to this day.

Steve Cohen at the Wheel

Abe was a quiet person, but he chose his words carefully and offered his critical opinion only when he felt it was absolutely necessary. He had a wry and understated sense of humor, and I never saw him lose his temper. He worked slowly, meticulously, and pragmatically. What he chose to contribute to my education was always carefully considered, and his example as a potter and as a person helped me become the person and the potter that I am today. 

My time as one of Abe’s apprentices concluded when I and my future wife, Karen, traveled for a year. When we returned, I opted to have a career as a musician. Though my time as one of Abe’s apprentices lasted only about 18 months, the lessons I learned stuck with me, and I have returned to making ceramic art at the age of 65, still much influenced by my time at Abe’s studios.

Through the last 10 years, I have accumulated a couple dozen of Abe’s pots, mostly at estate sales and Goodwill stores. Abe’s pots are among the very few things that I collect, and they are important to me. This presentation of my small collection has been a pleasure to assemble. Thinking about Abe and looking at the pots that he made takes me back to a happy and developmental time in my life. I think of this project as an opportunity to look back fondly at my time with Abe. 


Steve Cohen’s Collection

Blue Lip Vase

Blue Lip Vase

Blue lip vase reduction fired stoneware, 7”, 1976. Collection of Steve Cohen. The foot of this pot has been trimmed, but not the floor. This pot has the number “18” in underglaze pencil. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Brown Ewer

Brown Ewer

Brown ewer, approx 5.5”, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. This Ewer has throwing lines on the inner surface, but not the outer surface. The outer glaze has 3 layered glazes with a wax resist pattern on the lower body of the pot. These identifying numbers- 342   3 and the Potter’s Wheel symbol are on the bottom of the pot in underglaze pencil. The floor of this pot was not trimmed and there is a stamp at the bottom of the handle attachment. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Tall Teal Green Vase

Tall Teal Green Vase

Tall teal green vase, 10”, ca 1954. Collection of Steve Cohen. This vase is a basic cylinder form and is likely an early effort, as evidenced by both the heaviness of the pot, the signature ACON an early signature in Abe’s career, and the date 8-54 on the bottom surface. The bottom of the exterior is trimmed, and the inner part of the floor is also trimmed to create an elevated foot. The glaze pattern could be a wax resist pattern or possibly a technique that resembles finger painting. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Green and Brown Vase

Green and Brown Vase

Green and brown vase, 8”, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. There is a pattern of hand-manipulated depressions around the widest area of the body of the pot. There is either a wax resist pattern or brushstrokes of glaze accenting the depressions on the bottom half of the pot. The glaze accents on the top section are clearly brushstrokes. The foot is trimmed on the outside and the inside, creating an elevated foot. It has the early signature ACON inscribed, as well as the date 8-54. There is also an identifying number, 176 written in underglaze pencil on the bottom. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Red, Tan and Blue Swirl Vase

Red, Tan and Blue Swirl Vase

Red, tan and blue swirl vase, 7”, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. This vase was wheel thrown, and then flattened by hand while retaining the roundness of the lip. It is decorated with colored slip brushstrokes and then incised before being glazed with one of Abe’s signature ash glazes. The foot is trimmed and has an elevated foot and the identifying number 8158 on the bottom in underglaze pencil. It is reduction fired stoneware. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Red and Blue Bulb Vase

Red and Blue Bulb Vase

Red and blue bulb vase, hand thrown porcelain, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. As part of the throwing process, the lip was rolled over onto the top of the pot, and then trimmed in a decorative pattern when partially dry. It is glazed with a copper red glaze that Abe called “liver”. It is dated on the bottom 77 and has an identifying number 291 as well as an incised Potter’s Wheel symbol. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Wide Brown Lip White and Green Bowl

Wide Brown Lip White and Green Bowl

Wide brown lip white and green bowl, reduction fired porcelain, 4” tall and 6” wide, 1994. Collection of Steve Cohen. It is hand thrown. The outside is mostly unglazed raw clay with 8 panels of incised, whimsical, organic designs, brushed with a celadon glaze and albany slip accents. On the bottom the number 79 is present, and the Potter’s Wheel symbol incised through a small area of slip decoration. The foot is carefully trimmed and articulated. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Brown and Red Speckled Teapot

Brown and Red Speckled Teapot

Brown and red speckled teapot, 9” at the widest point and 7” at the highest point, 1999. Collection of Steve Cohen. This is an elaborately conceived and skillfully executed teapot. Abe’s teapots were highly valued by collectors. This one is reminiscent of a whimsical animal, with 2 feet attached to the front bottom. The body is hand thrown and intentionally distorted by hand. It has 2 hand-pulled and manipulated handles, plus hand-thrown lid, lid handle, and spout. The base glaze is mason red with a wax resist design. It is reduction fired stoneware. It has the incised Potter’s Wheel logo on the bottom and an identifying number 135. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Flower Lip Vase
1 of 2 photos

Flower Lip Vase

Flower lip vase, hand thrown porcelain, 7”, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. This seems stylistically different from many of Abe’s functional, one of a kind art pots. It is glazed mostly glossy white, inside and out, with an asymmetrically carved lip, showing a rough unglazed carved slip decoration on the inside of the lip. This carving is echoed in etched lines near the bottom and has 4 hand-built feet added to elevate the pot. The Potter’s Wheel symbol is etched as part of the motif on the very bottom of the pot. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Flower Lip Vase
2 of 2 photos

Flower Lip Vase

Flower lip vase, hand thrown porcelain, 7”, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. This seems stylistically different from many of Abe’s functional, one of a kind art pots. It is glazed mostly glossy white, inside and out, with an asymmetrically carved lip, showing a rough unglazed carved slip decoration on the inside of the lip. This carving is echoed in etched lines near the bottom and has 4 hand-built feet added to elevate the pot. The Potter’s Wheel symbol is etched as part of the motif on the very bottom of the pot. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Wide Lip Rust, Light and Dark Gray Bowl
1 of 2 photos

Wide Lip Rust, Light and Dark Gray Bowl

Wide lip rust, light and dark gray bowl, 4” high and 6” wide at the lip, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. It is reduction fired stoneware with a semi-functional lava glaze designed to fall away from the clay body in places during firing. The bottom of the floor is glazed and the Potter’s Wheel symbol is carved into the clay. It shows an identifying number of 422. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Wide Lip Rust, Light and Dark Gray Bowl
2 of 2 photos

Wide Lip Rust, Light and Dark Gray Bowl

Wide lip rust, light and dark gray bowl, 4” high and 6” wide at the lip, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. It is reduction fired stoneware with a semi-functional lava glaze designed to fall away from the clay body in places during firing. The bottom of the floor is glazed and the Potter’s Wheel symbol is carved into the clay. It shows an identifying number of 422. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Black and Blue Coffee Mugs

Black and Blue Coffee Mugs

Black and blue coffee mugs, reduction fired stoneware, 1974. Collection of Steve Cohen. They are hand-thrown with pulled handles. They show the Potter’s Wheel symbol brushed on with underglaze and identical Identifying number 418 on the bottom. Similar in size and design to a line of slip-cast coffee mugs that Abe produced in quantity later in his career, these may have been prototypes. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Light Gray, Blue, Rust Wind Bell with Rope Attached Lid
1 of 2 photos

Light Gray, Blue, Rust Wind Bell with Rope Attached Lid

Light gray, blue, rust wind bell with rope attached lid, 1974. Collection of Steve Cohen. It is a 2-piece pot, with hand thrown bell and ringer disc. This one has Abe’s signature slip and carving decoration under an ash glaze on the outer surface. The disc is unglazed. It is reduction fired stoneware. There is an identification number 271 and the Potter’s Wheel symbol, all drawn in underglaze pencil at the top of the bell. Abe produced many of these over the years. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Light Gray, Blue, Rust Wind Bell with Rope Attached Lid
2 of 2 photos

Light Gray, Blue, Rust Wind Bell with Rope Attached Lid

Light gray, blue, rust wind bell with rope attached lid, 1974. Collection of Steve Cohen. It is a 2-piece pot, with hand thrown bell and ringer disc. This one has Abe’s signature slip and carving decoration under an ash glaze on the outer surface. The disc is unglazed. It is reduction fired stoneware. There is an identification number 271 and the Potter’s Wheel symbol, all drawn in underglaze pencil at the top of the bell. Abe produced many of these over the years. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Sugar, Creamer, and Honey Pot Set

Sugar, Creamer, and Honey Pot Set

Sugar, creamer, and honey pot set, 4” wide and 4” tall at the highest point, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. The diameters and seats of the sugar jar and honey pot are so close that the lids are interchangeable. The lids have hand thrown knobs, and the honey pot lid has a notch cut out to house a honey dipper or spoon. Two of these are identically numbered on the bottoms 71   82, the third is numbered 70 82. All three have the Potter’s Wheel symbol carved from colored slip on the bottom. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Brown and Gray Speckled Coffee Mug

Brown and Gray Speckled Coffee Mug

Brown and gray speckled coffee mug, reduction fired, 5” tall, 1968. Collection of Steve Cohen. This is a hand-thrown mug with an oversized, pulled handle. There are throwing lines on the inside but not on the outside. It has an identifying number 681 in underglaze pencil, and also the Potter’s Wheel symbol carved in the bottom. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Brown Swirl Goblet
1 of 2 photos

Brown Swirl Goblet

Brown swirl goblet, 6” tall, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. The cup and stem were thrown in 2 pieces, then attached when leather hard. It is reduction fired stoneware with a wax resist pattern decoration as part of the glaze. It is numbered 348 inside the stem. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Brown Swirl Goblet
2 of 2 photos

Brown Swirl Goblet

Brown swirl goblet, 6” tall, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. The cup and stem were thrown in 2 pieces, then attached when leather hard. It is reduction fired stoneware with a wax resist pattern decoration as part of the glaze. It is numbered 348 inside the stem. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Slip Cast Tea Bowls

Slip Cast Tea Bowls

Slip cast tea bowls, 2-3” wide, 1960. Collection of Steve Cohen. One of Abe’s popular production lines were slip cast tea bowls. These bowls are all glazed slightly differently. Despite a high success ratio, not all of Abe’s pieces came through the many processes perfectly. In his gallery, there was an area where functional failures were sold at a discount. One of these bowls has a glaze defect, a pitted area in the bottom of the inside, and was surely a “second”.  These all have “COHN” stamped in the bottom. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Creamer Ewer

Creamer Ewer

Creamer ewer, 4” tall and 5” wide at the widest point, ca 1970s. Collection of Steve Cohen. This is the creamer part of a sugar and creamer set. The handle is pulled, the body is hand thrown. It has a wax resist pattern as part of the glaze. It is numbered 240 on the bottom, and the Potter’s Wheel symbol is carved into the bottom. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.

Tan, Rust and Blue Teapot

Tan, Rust and Blue Teapot

Tan, rust and blue Teapot, 8” tall, 1974. Collection of Steve Cohen. This is an excellent example of a signature Abe Cohn teapot. All elements including the body, spout, lid and lid handle are hand-thrown stoneware. The handle is pulled. This teapot is decorated with colored slips and then carved before an ash glaze was applied before final firing. It is numbered 188 and has the Potter’s Wheel symbol brushed on with underglaze. Photo by and collection of Steve Cohen.


Abe’s Early Career, Friends, Family

Abe Cohn grew up in Waukesha, the youngest of six brothers. He joined the army at a young age, studied painting in Paris and at UW-Madison, where he discovered his love of clay. This led to studios and galleries in Milwaukee and Door County, a marriage to his wife Ginka and a rewarding life filled with teaching, children, grandchildren and many friends.   

Abe Cohn with His Brothers

Abe Cohn with His Brothers

Born in 1925, Abe (on the farthest left) was the youngest of six; the Cohn brothers grew up in Waukesha. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe in the Army

Abe in the Army

Abe joined the Army at the end of high school and landed in France on “D-Day plus 6.” Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe Studying in Paris

Abe Studying in Paris

After the war, Abe began studying painting at UW-Madison on the GI Bill in 1946, which also enabled him to study painting in Paris. Beginning in 1948, Abe spent two and a half years there – first studying at the Académie Julian and then at the atelier of noted Cubist painter, sculptor and filmmaker, Fernand Henri Léger. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe's Early Paintings

Abe’s Early Paintings

While studying abstract painting in Paris, Abe found camaraderie among the other artists studying at Léger’s atelier on the GI Bill. He found this to be the most rewarding part of his time in those studios. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abstract Painting

Abstract Painting

Abstract painting, ca. mid-1940s (while studying in Paris). Collection of Jon Cohn.

Abstract Painting

Abstract Painting

Abstract painting, ca. mid-1940s (while studying in Paris). Collection of Jon Cohn.

Abstract Painting

Abstract Painting

Abstract painting, ca. mid-1940s (while studying in Paris). Collection of Jon Cohn.

Abstract Painting

Abstract Painting

Abstract Painting, ca. mid-1940s (while studying in Paris). Collection of Jon Cohn.

Abstract Painting

Abstract Painting

Abstract painting, ca. mid-1940s (while studying in Paris). Collection of Robin Cohn.

Ruins….What For?

Ruins….What For?

Reflecting back, Abe expressed his feelings about war in this piece entitled, ‘Ruins….What For?’ ca. early-1950s (while studying in Paris). Collection of Robin Cohn.

'The Quintet'

‘The Quintet’

‘The Quintet,’ print, ca. mid-1940s (while studying in Paris). Collection of Robin Cohn.

Madison, 1953

Madison, 1953

Back in Wisconsin, Abe continued studying painting at UW-Madison, where Alfred Sessler was a favorite teacher, however a change of medium was on the horizon. This piece is entitled, ‘Madison, 1953’. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe Working at UW-Madison

Abe Working at UW-Madison

Abe found his love for clay after taking a class from F. Carlton Ball at UW-Madison, charting his creative life’s path. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe and His Wife Ginka, 1954

Abe and His Wife Ginka, 1954

Abe and his wife Ginka were married on June 27, 1954. A few years earlier, in 1952, Abe spent a year in California where his friend Ruth Bornstein, Ginka’s cousin and a fellow student in Paris, was living. There he studied at Kentfield Junior College. Ruth was the person who first introduced Abe and Ginka before she later took a pottery class from him, where they truly met and their relationship began. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Ginka and Abe, 1959

Ginka and Abe, 1959

Ginka and Abe have family on the mind, 1959. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Ginka and Abe with Grandchildren

Ginka and Abe with Grandchildren

Ginka and Abe with their first grandchildren, Josh and Alicia, children of son Robin and his wife Grace. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

In Door County

In Door County

Abe and Ginka in Door County. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

The Mad Potters

The Mad Potters

The Adventures of the Mad Potters, Cartoon drawn poster, 1977. Image courtesy of Steve Cohen.

An Invitation to Phillip Cohn's Exhibit

An Invitation to Phillip Cohn’s Exhibit

Abe taught his father Phillip, who was born in Russia in 1888, how to throw pots and he became quite skillful. A show of Phillip’s work took place at the Potter’s Wheel in 1971. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Phillip Cohn Pot, ca mid 1960s - 1970s

Phillip Cohn Pot, ca mid 1960s – 1970s

One of Phillip Cohn’s pots, ca mid-1960s – 1970s. Image courtesy of Robin Cohn. Collection of Robin Cohen.

Abe and Ginka Cohn with Joseph Friebert

Abe and Ginka Cohn with Joseph Friebert

Abe and Ginka with longtime friend, Milwaukee artist Joseph Friebert. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Ginka, Schomer Lichtner and Abe

Ginka, Schomer Lichtner and Abe

Abe and Ginka loved the work – and enjoyed the friendship – of artists Schomer Lichtner and his wife Ruth Grotenrath (not pictured). Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Door County Potter's Guild, 1995

Door County Potter’s Guild, 1995

Abe and Ginka were founding members of the Door County Potter’s Guild which was established in 1976; here are members of the Guild in 1995. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe with Granddaughter

Abe with Granddaughter

Abe appreciates granddaughter Alicia’s handmade pot. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe with Grandsons

Abe with Grandsons

Abe showing grandsons Aaron and Zachary (children of daughter Tamar and her husband Michael) how to work clay on the wheel. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe with Grandson

Abe with Grandson

Abe watches as grandson Josh practices centering on the wheel. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.


Abe’s Prolific Pottery

During his decades-long career, Abe created a prolific body of work. Public and private collections throughout Wisconsin and the country include his creations. His children have diverse collections of their father’s work, proudly displaying many pieces in their homes.

Black and Gray Swirled Teapot

Black and Gray Swirled Teapot

Black and gray swirled teapot, ca. 1990s. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Casserole Dish
1 of 2 photos

Casserole Dish

Casserole dish with carvings, apple ash glaze over iron and cobalt oxide, 1993. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Interior Lid of Casserole Dish
2 of 2 photos

Interior Lid of Casserole Dish

Casserole dish showing detail under the lid, 1993. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Gold, Green and Brown Bowl

Gold, Green and Brown Bowl

Gold, green and brown bowl glazed with slip pattern, ca. early-1980s. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Rust and Dark Green Mug

Rust and Dark Green Mug

Rust and dark green coffee mug, 2011. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Rust, Blue and Brown Speckled Plate

Rust, Blue and Brown Speckled Plate

Rust, blue and brown speckled plate, ca. 1970s. *Glazed by Jon Cohn in 2012. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Three Coffee Mugs

Three Coffee Mugs

Three coffee mugs, (from left to right) 1986, 1980, 1995. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Tiled Table

Tiled Table

Tiled table, ca. 1960s. Collection of Jon Cohn.

Blue and Black Swirled Mug

Blue and Black Swirled Mug

Blue and black swirled mug, ca. 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Blue and White Swirled Porcelain Vase

Blue and White Swirled Porcelain Vase

Blue and white swirled porcelain vase, ca. 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Brown and Tan Pitcher

Brown and Tan Pitcher

Brown and tan pitcher, ca. 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Crater Glaze Large Bowl with Textured Interior

Crater Glaze Large Bowl with Textured Interior

Crater glaze large bowl with textured interior, ca 1960s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Earth Tones Teapot

Earth Tones Teapot

Earth tones teapot, ca 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Green, Brown and Black Wax Resist Porcelain Mug

Green, Brown and Black Wax Resist Porcelain Mug

Green, brown and black wax resist porcelain mug, ca 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Large Earth Tones Vase

Large Earth Tones Vase

Large earth tones vase, ca. 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Red with Accent Blue Vase

Red with Accent Blue Vase

Red with accent blue vase, ca. 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Red, Blue and Black Teapot

Red, Blue and Black Teapot

Red, blue and black tea pot, 1979. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Rust, Black and Green Wax Resist Porcelain Vase

Rust, Black and Green Wax Resist Porcelain Vase

Rust, black and green wax resist porcelain vase, ca. 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Wax Resist Porcelain 'Branches' Vase, Pitcher and Cup Set

Wax Resist Porcelain ‘Branches’ Vase, Pitcher and Cup Set

Three-piece wax resist porcelain ‘branches’ vase, pitcher and cup set, ca. 1980s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Two Miniatures

Two Miniatures

Two miniatures, ca. 1970s. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Kiddush Cups

Kiddush Cups

Kiddush cups, 1983. Collection of Robin Cohn.

Menorah

Menorah

Menorah, 1983. Collection of Robin Cohn.


The Potter’s Wheel

Abe and Ginka learned of the beauty of Fish Creek, Door County in the early 1950s and after visiting, became smitten. The Milwaukee Potter’s Wheel gallery gained a second location following their establishment of the first pottery studio there in 1953. The venue would soon become an iconic destination for potters seeking guidance and for pottery enthusiasts.

The Potter’s Wheel in Fish Creek

The Potter’s Wheel in Fish Creek

In the summer of 1956, Abe and Ginka established the first pottery studio in Fish Creek, laying the pioneering foundation for Door County to become a renowned destination for potters and potter enthusiasts alike. In 1958, Abe and Ginka bought this property, transforming it into the popular and celebrated venue, The Potter’s Wheel. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Working Outside in Fish Creek

Working Outside in Fish Creek

Abe worked outside for the first two years (1956-58) while renting in downtown Fish Creek. He then drove his work to his Milwaukee studio (originally located in the old Metropolitan Building on North 3rd street before a 1975 fire saw The Potter’s Wheel relocated to a former warehouse at 207 N. Milwaukee St., which also housed MIAD), to glaze and fire it. After years of maintaining both locations and spending solely summers in Fish Creek, Abe and Ginka moved there in 1994, making the Door Peninsula their permanent home. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Ginka and Abe in Door County

Ginka and Abe in Door County

Ginka and Abe setting up shop in Door County. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

The Potter’s Wheel

The Potter’s Wheel

The Potter’s Wheel, an iconic location and destination in Fish Creek for over half a century. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe Featured in Milwaukee Sentinel
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Abe Featured in Milwaukee Sentinel

Abe’s impact as a potter, instructor and mentor was highlighted in a December 1976 article written by Dean Jensen for the Milwaukee Sentinel. Former associate potters and established ceramicists Talma Moed-Silver and Greg Miller are talked about and quoted. Images courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe Featured in Milwaukee Sentinel
2 of 2 photos

Abe Featured in Milwaukee Sentinel

Abe’s impact as a potter, instructor and mentor was highlighted in a December 1976 article written by Dean Jensen for the Milwaukee Sentinel. Former associate potters and established ceramicists Talma Moed-Silver and Greg Miller are talked about and quoted. Images courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

The Potter’s Wheel Gallery and Studio

The Potter’s Wheel Gallery and Studio

The Potter’s Wheel Gallery and Studio in Fish Creek. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

The Potter’s Wheel Gallery and Studio

The Potter’s Wheel Gallery and Studio

The Potter’s Wheel Gallery and Studio in Fish Creek. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe at Work

Abe at Work

A Young Abe at Work. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe at Work Series I

Abe at Work Series I

Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe at Work Series II

Abe at Work Series II

Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe at Work Series III

Abe at Work Series III

Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe at Work Series IV

Abe at Work Series IV

Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe Cohn, Summer 1967

Abe Cohn, Summer 1967

In the summer of 1967 Don Emmerich, award-winning photographer for the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel, went to Door County to do a photoshoot to accompany a planned article for National Geographic, which included a session with already noted potter, Abe Cohn. This is an unpublished photo from that shoot taken by Don. The cover story for National Geographic, which came out in a 1969 edition, is credited by many with making the Door Peninsula into the destination it is today. Image courtesy of Door Guide Publishing LLC.

National Geographic Article

National Geographic Article

This is a picture of the article, including an image of Abe from the 1967 shoot with Don, featured in the game-changing cover story for a 1969 edition of National Geographic. Image courtesy of Robin Cohn.

Photographer Don Emmerich Photographing Abe

Photographer Don Emmerich Photographing Abe

Image of photographer Don Emmerich, award-winning photographer for the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel, taking a photo of Abe Cohn working in his studio. Taken by and courtesy of Katie Sikora.

Abe Working

Abe Working

Abe spent a lifetime dedicated to his craft. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Abe Working 2012

Abe Working 2012

After experiencing some health issues and taking a long hiatus, Abe returned to the wheel in late August 2012. Image courtesy of Tamar Cohn.

Remembering Abe & Ginka Cohn of Potters Wheel Gallery

Remembering Abe & Ginka Cohn of Potters Wheel Gallery

Video courtesy of Door Guide Publishing LLC


#FiredUpWithJMM

We know that there are many Abe Cohn pieces, experiences, and stories in the greater Wisconsin community and beyond, and we want to collect those experiences! Share your story and any Abe Cohn pottery you have collected throughout the years with us via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or by emailing us at programs@jewishmuseummilwaukee.org. Use the hashtag #FiredUpWithJMM so we can find your story on social media and share it with our visitors. Select stories will be shared below.


Carol Vihon Hirsch (Evanston, IL)

Roger and I enjoy Door County with its charming little stores, beautiful nature to drive through, the same Inn we like as well as the art galleries. Quite a while ago we found this piece of pottery at The Potter’s Wheel. Then we found out Abe was Jewish. I did think I saw the spirit of Judaism in this piece of pottery. Recently, after I found out our favorite Jewish Museum Milwaukee was having a showing of his work I was going through old business cards while being kept inside due to COVID-19.  Lo and behold, there was a card from The Potter’s Wheel among those old business cards.  I could not believe it.


Mark Oehler

I worked with Abe starting in 1968 after graduating from UNI, Cedar Falls, Iowa. I was drafted into the Army, served in RVN and returned home in June 1970. I worked at The Potter’s Wheel until May 1972, when we moved to  Missouri until I retired in 2018. Whenever I think of making pots, I think of Abe and how stoic he could be. We had many conversations about the smallest details of throwing, glazing, firing and selling the work. I only hope I had the same effects on young potters I met along the way. So when it was time to leave, he gave me this pitcher which I’ve used daily for over 40 years as our water pitcher


Kathy and Tacitus Bond

For one summer in 1999, Road Scholar (then called Elderhostel) conducted 6 week-long programs in Door County, for which I was the facilitator.  These life long learning programs featured local artists, educators, musicians and even a taxidermist. Abe and Ginka were two of our experts, kindly offering tours of Abe’s studio to our 48 participants per week. Abe, in his quiet way, welcomed these oversized groups into his studio so they might watch him at his wheel. I sometimes think that this was the highlight of the week, a week that featured up to three events per day. In addition, Ginka gave a dance/exercise class on the last morning of the week that translated to a wonderful farewell memory.  These two were an amazing couple! We did manage to purchase our pot from Abe during one of these week-long programs, a pot we have treasured since.  


Rachel Baron Heimovics (Maitland, FL)

I have one piece by Abe Cohn – a casserole that I have never used other than to display. We visited Door County and the Potters Wheel in Fish Creek most likely in the mid-1970s – with my husband and three children in tow. We made a point of visiting the studio because my mother (Bernice Baron) urged us to do so. She was a friend of Ginka’s, especially admired her dancing, and spoke highly about Abe. When we went to the studio, I felt that it was important that I leave with something of Abe’s. These pictures show my selection and I have treasured it ever since.


Sylvan Leabman

My mother-in-law, Jean Frackman,  was a student of Abe’s and her pottery and glazes are so incredibly reflective of the pieces in the exhibit on your web site. Jean took classes from Abe in downtown Milwaukee. When my wife, Kippy, and I traveled up to Door County each summer for a few days and stopped at the studio, Abe always had wonderful things to say and memories of Jean as his student. He was such a nice man and a mentor to so many people.