For more than 54 years, Rose Cabat has been shaping exquisite pots that fit in a hand and beg to be stroked. Born in the Bronx in 1914, she moved to Arizona with her husband (and childhood sweetheart), the graphic artist Erni Cabat. She creates “feelies” in her studio, a narrow, dusty, tarpaper garage with a small window at each end, at the back of the very house she and Erni moved into in 1942.
It was Erni who introduced her to pottery when he brought some clay home from his job, planning to make and decorate some dinner plates. Rose tried her hand at potting; when Erni realized just how good she was, he became her lifelong supporter.
After taking a glaze calculation class at the University of Hawaii in 1956, Rose and Erni began developing their own glaze formulae, which she still uses. The glazes are lustrous, sometimes iridescent, in colors such as deep cobalt, a silky apple green, vibrant yellow and pewter. Sometimes she’ll mix them, with one color peeking out from another. These glazes are applied to subtle, sensual, rounded shapes that are the essence of Rose’s art.
All the feelies are onion-, fig-, or cucumber-shaped vases, never much larger than five inches tall and three or four inches wide, often as small as 1-5/8 x 1-3/8. The globular shape narrows to a closed neck, so tiny it cannot hold anything. Says Cabat of her pieces, “I wanted simpler shapes that went with the glazes … [a] vase can hold weeds or flowers, but can’t it just be a spot of beauty?”
Each year on their anniversary, Erni would give Rose a gift of a painting of the two of them or of Rose. (One is included below.) On November 8, 1994, Erni died. Since 1994, despite decreasing mobility but with hands that are strong and sure, Cabat has continued to create; she can throw a pot in 10 minutes. Her daughter June runs the business end of things.
To mark the milestone of her birth and the glory of her art, the Tucson Museum of Art has mounted a major retrospective.
One hundred years old and Still Working!
Press the “play” button below to watch Rose demonstrate her technique to one of her great grandchildren just before her 98th birthday.