Rose Cabat

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Rose Cabat (June 27, 1914 – January 25, 2015)[1] was an American studio ceramicist, classified as part of the Mid-Century modern movement who was best known for her innovative glazes upon small porcelain pots called 'feelies' often in the shape of onions and figs,[2] and bowls. She was the oldest known actively practicing pottery artist in the United States.[3]


Rose Cabat was born in New York City in 1914 in the Bronx, and married her childhood sweetheart Erni Cabat in 1936. She began working in ceramics in 1940 after her husband Erni brought home some clay from his job as an assistant [4] to Vally Wiselthier an art deco ceramicist who was making pieces for General Ceramics in Keasbey, New Jersey.[5] Originally, Erni, a graphic artist who had trained at the Cooper Union, had brought home clay from his workplace under Vally Wiselthier in order to make some dinner plates which he would later decorate. Rose recalled her love of clay which began in kindergarten and began working on making pottery. After seeing her preliminary pieces Erni gave Rose a membership at Greenwich House, in the Village where Rose learned how to use a potter's wheel.[6]

Shortly after their first son George was born, he was found to have intractable asthma. The Cabat's decided to move to Arizona around 1942 in order to alleviate his condition. Rose worked at a defense plant and was able to make primitive ceramics from the extra clay that Erni was able to obtain from brickyards. Rose was able to make some coil figures until Erni was able to convert a washing machine to a potter's wheel. Eventually, Erni ordered a Randall kickwheel, which Rose used to the end. She made ceramics in her spare time, as she worked in a munitions plant during World War II.[7]

After the war, Rose continued to make craft ceramics such as wind bells, animal shapes and other commodity pieces to help support the family, while Erni worked in Tucson as a graphic artist and an ad man.[6] He also wrote several children's books. They became friends with local artists, and help to start the Art Center, the forerunner of the Tucson Museum of Art. The Cabat's had two more children, Mike and June in Arizona.

In 1956, Erni and Rose took a glaze calculation class at the University of Hawaii. Erni watched the children in order for Rose to attend. She and Erni began development of glaze formulas which after applied to the later developed "feelie" forms which would become Rose Cabat's signature pieces. In about 1960, Rose hit upon the basic form of the vessel which would become the foundation of the "feelies". She created a weed pot with a delicate closed neck, which cannot hold even one slender stem or stalk, quoted as saying, "A vase can hold weeds or flowers, but can't it just be a spot of beauty?"[8]

By 1966, she was beginning to be recognized as a craft artist, with the exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum, "Craftsmen USA", where she exhibited a casserole. In 1973, her feelies were exhibited in "Everyday Life in Early America" as contemporary counterparts to pioneering American craftspeople. The Tucson Art Museum loaned one of Rose Cabat's blue-green Feelies to the Mansion of the Vice President, Walter Mondale at the time, to be displayed in the living room along with other works of art.[6]

Rose and Erni continued to produce ceramics, including feelies and bowls with their signature glazes. While Rose and Erni collaborated on the feelies and other ceramic forms, Erni ran his ad agency in Tucson until the age of 62 when he had felt that the family could be supported with the income from the "feelies" and other ceramics as well as his own artwork. Erni ran the business, weighed out the glaze components, while Rose did the craft and the art. Each year on their anniversary, Erni would give Rose a gift of a painting of the two of them or of Rose. In 1994, Rose was unnerved by Erni's anniversary painting, and in the following months, he wrote detailed instructions of how to take care of the business, and how he did things. On November 8, 1994, Erni went to bed, never to reawaken.[6]

After 1994, Rose continued to produce feelies and bowls, despite her decreasing mobility, with her daughter June running the business end of things.

Cabat died on January 25, 2015 at the age of 100.[9]


Feelies are described as onion, fig, cucumber, and saucer-shaped ceramic vases terminating in an upward closed neck. Bruce Block, an avid collector, has described them as sensual and tactile with a very specific unforgettable texture, spiritual seeming to contain a type of energy.[2] She had developed a silky satiny glaze, and it wasn't until around 1960 that she had hit upon the first of the appropriate form, svelte and sleek to match the glaze. She exclaimed, "Now this one's a feelie.",[8] coining the term. Upon developing the new glazes, she felt that she needed new forms to apply the glazes to, different from what she made before, "craft fair" style coiled heads and wind bells. She is quoted as saying, "The old things did not look good ... I wanted simpler shapes that went with the glazes."[10] They are typically globular in shape, tightening down to a minuscule neck glazed to a satin surface. The tactile experience is most important.[4] The nature of the neck is such that it is closed, so narrow that it cannot hold anything. Cabat would reply when asked why the necks of her feelies are so narrow, "A vase can hold weeds or flowers, but can't it just be a spot of beauty?" [8]

Feelie types[edit]

Common shapes

  • Balloon-shaped
  • Pear-Shaped
  • Straight-Sided

Common Glazes

  • Onion Skin
  • Malachite
  • Apple green
  • Fruit skin
  • Lavender
  • Mauve and cream[11]

Artistic context and impact[edit]

According to leading mid-century modern furniture and ceramics authority David Rago, Rose Cabat's feelies are the product of an especially refined and personal vision which are ultimately affordable. They are accessible in price as well as being immediately enjoyable by most people, but at the same time, beautiful and deep. "She distinguished herself by bringing beauty and craftsmanship into the realm of the discerning collector with average means."[11] When Rose Cabat began working on feelies in the 1960s, American studio ceramics was still in its infancy. Her work in the development of glazes and delicate thin-walled porcelain has moved American ceramics forward in a quietly profound way[11] in contrast to the Natzlers and Peter Voulkos, whose challenging and daring revolutionary pieces have brought progress in bold strokes. Instead, her work is quietly contemplatively beautiful, "easy on the eye".[11] As per David Rago, She is considered an heir to the Arts and Crafts Movement in America who "brought American ceramics from adolescence to adulthood."[6] "While some modern studio pottery is intellectual or even angst-ridden, the work of Rose Cabat ... expresses pure joy in its design and decoration."[12]


Museum Collections and Expositions[edit]

  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History "Everyday Life in America"[6]
  • Smithsonian Renwick Gallery
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art [13]
  • Museum of Art and Design[14]

A more comprehensive list of past exhibitions is presented at the Couturier Gallery webpage.[15]


As per Rose Cabat, "Walter Mondale is known to have an extensive collection of Cabat pottery."[13] Bruce Block[2][16]


  1. ^ Cabat, Rose. "United States Public Records Index". FamilySearch. 
  2. ^ a b c Block, Bruce. "A visit with Rose Cabat". the Journal of the American Art Pottery Association. Absecon NJ. Volume 20, issue 4, 2004.
  3. ^ "Pottery Lovers Reunion Show in Zanesville, Ohio, July 11-18". Antique Trader. June 10, 2009. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b [1] Koplos, Janet and Metcalf, Bruce. Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. The University of North Carolina Press. Salem, NC. 2010.(chapter was removed from the final draft, but available online.)
  5. ^ Vally Wiselthier
  6. ^ a b c d e f Lieberman, Paul (July 18, 2004). "A life's refined shape". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA). Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Rose Cabat Sep 8-Nov.15 2004 Exhibit Hall". Tohono Chul Park Newsletter. Tucson, AZ. Autumn 2004.
  8. ^ a b c Wolf, Peter (Spring 2005). "Hooked on A Feelie" (PDF). Modernism (Lambertville, NJ). Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Rose Cabat Obituary". Arizona Daily Star ( January 28, 2015. 
  10. ^ Regan, Margaret. "Ninety and Nimble". Tucson Weekly. Tucson, Arizona. October 7, 2004.
  11. ^ a b c d Rago, David. Sollo, John. Collecting Modern: A Guide to Midcentury Studio Furniture and Ceramics. Gibbs Smith Publisher. Salt Lake City, Utah. 2001.
  12. ^ Albertson, Karla Klein (May 21, 2009). "Ceramics Collector: Cabat's 'feelies'". Auction Central News. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  13. ^ a b [2] "Dover Votes for Rose Cabat". Collector Magazine. Friday, April 2nd, 2010.
  14. ^ [3] Museum of Art and Design
  15. ^ Cabat Couturier Gallery webpage
  16. ^ Treffinger, Stephen (March 6, 2003). "CURRENTS: VASES; For These Tiny Vases, No Sunflowers, Please". New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 

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