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February 24 - April 1, 2006 at Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood

by Marlena Donohue

There is a certain power to incumbency; said another way, if you live long enough and well enough someone is bound to take note. Well, many--the Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian to name just two--have taken note of the very fine pearlescent vessels by 90-something ceramicist Rose Cabat. Tucson-based Cabat sits in that same rarefied air as the late Beatrice Wood: gracious and gorgeous, energetic to the extent that the rest of us are shamed, and like Woods, Cabat has contributed major innovations to that mysterious alchemy known in the pottery biz as “glazing.”

Cabat is famous for what she has called “feelies,” so named because both the lush hue and the shape of these fragile objects invite your touch, and convey a waft of some exotic sensuality. You see pictures of Cabat, face aglow, deeply furrowed by time and sun, often moving through her home studio in a wheelchair, and these beckoning little vessels she creates tell us there is a sensual lady in every woman at any age.

Forty of these gorgeous “feelies” are on view, and they run from the miniscule 2-inchers to a grander scale. The most intriguing by far are those you can hold in your palm, hold up to the light and marvel at. You gradually notice that there are ten shades of lilac, and can’t help but realize that these miraculously controlled sheens are facile enough to have been formed by Nature. These objects are exceedingly precious. Their walls appear to be paper thin--like sugar that has hardened--and they remind us of jewels, or ancient glasses from the Middle East or Pre-Colombian royal finery. In fact, the objects, like their maker, have refreshingly less pretentious origins. This weird fact makes their haughty grace all the more appealing.

Cabat was born in 1914 in Brooklyn, and married her childhood sweetheart, also an artist. During the war Cabat became a real-life riveter in a local munitions factory, and began throwing pots for fun and self expression after her kids were grown. In the late 1950s the otherwise self-taught artist took a glazing class at the University of Hawaii. She began to experiment with painterly glazing at a time when pottery was just that--pots. The glazes came from mixtures coined by her late mate and stored in food containers. Today these lovely objects sell in the five figure range, and have been shown all over the world, from France to Brazil and beyond.

"Round/Cobalt," 2005,
ceramic feelie, 3 1/2 x 2 3/4".

"Inverted Pear/White," 2005,
ceramic feelie, 3 7/8 x 2 1/2".

“Inverted Pear--Yellow,” 2005, glazed
ceramic "feelie", 3 1/4" h x 2 1/2" d.

“Mineret - Onion Skin,” 2005, glazed
ceramic "feelie", 3 3/4" h x 2" d.

This would be one of those hokey, cloyingly annoying crafts fair stories, were it not for the fact that when you confront these objects you cannot but marvel at the sophistication of firing, shaping, and glazing involved. Cabat has said her ovoid, lush shapes and colors--muted pinks, lilacs, deep iridescent blues, translucent whites--are often inspired by the mundane stuff she grows in her vegetable garden. The source/inspiration is humble--onion, eggplant, tomato, green earth, bright sun--and the results are absolutely regal. Put that in your Fifth Avenue Cooper Union gourd and smoke it.

The finest pieces look like luminous orbs, ballooning out like turgid summer squash. They flare and close to an impossibly delicate opening and look very much like a fecund seed pod made of gorgeous hardened silk. These vessels are variegated and delicious, the surfaces irresistibly silky, ergo the apt moniker--”feelies.”