The Tucson Museum of Art is presenting “Rose Cabat at 100: A Retrospective Exhibition of Ceramics,” through Sept. 14. Cabat, who lives in Tucson, is considered one of the most important ceramic artists of the mid-century Modernist movement, says Julie Sasse, Ph.D., chief curator at TMA. Cabat is best known for innovative glazes on small porcelain pots called “feelies.”
Born Rose Katz in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1914, Cabat first worked with clay as a child in kindergarten and at the Henry Street Settlement House on the Lower East Side. As Sasse writes in her exhibition essay, “Rose’s childhood was a happy one, filled with friends, trips to Coney Island, and the sights, sounds and smells of a vibrant immigrant community. In 1936, she married childhood friend Erni Cabat, who became her artistic mentor and biggest supporter.”
It was Erni, as an apprentice to Vally Wieselther, a well-known potter and sculptor who immigrated to the United States from Austria, who brought home the clay with which Cabat created her first objects. Noticing her talent, he gave her a membership at Greenwich Pottery House in Greenwich Village, where she taught herself to create wheel-thrown pots and develop glazes.
The couple moved to Tucson in 1942, after their first child, George, developed asthma. Cabat worked at Davis Mothan Air Force Base as a riveter and Erni worked as a production illustration designer at an aircraft company, and both continued to refine their crafts. By the 1950s, Cabat’s pottery was becoming known nationwide, and on a trip to Hawaii in 1957, she took a course in glaze calculation that led her, with Erni, to develop the smooth, richly colored “feelie” glaze. In the following decades she was included in a number of prestigious exhibitions, from the Smithsonian’s international touring exhibit, “Objects U.S.A.” in 1969, to the Musee des Artes Decoratifs group invitational in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1981.
Approaching her 100th birthday this month, Cabat continues her artistic production with help from family and friends. She recently proclaimed, “Anyone can throw a pot, but not everybody can make a beautiful glaze like I do.”