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A life of creative fulfillment, integrity, and quiet resilience ended peacefully on May 10. Abraham Cohn, 88, was a master artist-craftsman known for his stoneware and porcelain pottery. He integrated form and decoration, uniting function and beauty. He developed all of his own glazes. His work morphed over the years, dictated only by his curiosity and creativity. As he put it, "The main guiding light is to be inventive with whatever you're working with, whether it's clay or any other material."
Abe grew up in Waukesha with five older brothers. He served in the Army, majored in fine arts at UW-Madison and studied painting in Paris on the G.I. Bill. Back in Madison, he took a ceramics course from F. Carlton Ball and found his life's path. In 1952, he opened a basement studio in downtown Milwaukee. Among his students was a vibrant young dancer named Ginka. Their marriage - a symbiosis of individual and coupled creativity, mutual admiration, committed love and respect - lasted 57 years until her death in 2011.
Abe originally sold his pottery at art fairs in Milwaukee and Chicago.
He and Ginka were drawn to the beauty and potential of Door County in 1956. Their Potters Wheel Gallery in Fish Creek was the first pottery studio/gallery in Door County; it became their year-round home in 1994, and this was to have been Abe's 58th season.
Abe inspired, supported and appreciated both new and established artists, and was a founding member of the Door County Potters' Guild. As teacher and mentor, Abe's critiques were thoughtful and forthright. He modeled commitment to one's craft, perseverance, confidence, humility, resourcefulness, curiosity and authenticity.
Abe enjoyed performances of dance, music, and theatre; working while listening to "Chapter a Day" on NPR; bass fishing off Anderson Dock; Tony Hillerman novels; keeping up with news and politics; and talking shop over a dark beer with colleagues. He had an understated and impish sense of humor, and he appreciated a good nap.
He is survived by in-laws and cousins, nephews and nieces. His son, Jonathan has been living with Abe and has greatly facilitated Abe's work since 2011. Son, Robin and daughter, Tamar live in California, with their spouses, giving Abe four grandchildren and one great-grandchild with another on the way.
In 1964, Abe was given the first solo show by a craftsperson at the new Memorial Art Center in Milwaukee. Other recognitions and honors include a Wisconsin Visual Artist Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. But more important for Abe than awards was to see people "continue the process" as so many students, apprentices, and assistants of his have in fact gone on to do.
In keeping with this, the Peninsula School of Art is establishing a memorial fund in Abraham Cohn's name. The intent is to continue Abe's legacy and the tradition of ceramic education on the Door Peninsula.
Please reference Abraham Cohn in your donations to the Peninsula School of Art, P.O. Box 304, Fish Creek, WI 54212. Alternatively, consider buying work from a local potter, or support other working artists or arts organizations of your choice.
No public memorial is planned at this time. Abe's advice: "Get centered … keep asking questions as you grow … live your vision."
Online condolences and registration may be offered at www.caspesonfuneralhome.com
Published in Door County Advocate on May 15, 2013
Casperson Funeral Home
10708 North Bay Shore Drive Sister Bay, WI 54234