David worked in ceramics for over 50 years. Former Head of Ceramics at the Glasgow School of Art (1986-1991) he specialised in Raku and designed large plate compositions for corporate and private commission. Some of his work is on display in the garden at Tantallon Studios.
Ceramic artist who was as skilled a teacher as he was a craftsman.
Dave Cohen, Ceramic Artist-Craftsman. Born: Milwaukee, Wisconsinin in 1932. Died: North Berwick, East Lothian in 2018
Dave Cohen arrived in Scotland in 1958, having proudly served in the US Navy (1953-57) aboard the destroyer USS Hale. He was a welder aboard ship having previously been an apprentice carpenter (1947-51) – skills that served him as an artist and contributed to his fearless approach to material, whether metal, wood or ceramics.
Clay became his most-loved medium, expressed through a diverse and vast oeuvre sealing his legacy as one of Scotland’s greatest ceramic artists.
He attended the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA ) from 1958-61studying sculpture under Eric Schilsky and as a secondary subject ceramics, with his teacher Katie Horsman. After sculpture classes ended for the day he walked over to the ceramics department to throw pots for as long as he was allowed, only to return first thing in the morning as the janitors arrived to open the building – the first signs of his unrelenting work ethic and self discipline.
Horseman recognised his talent early. “We always knew how good Dave was going to be and he didn’t let us down – of course, Dave went on to teach us.”
The late critic W Gordon Smith wrote that Schilsky and Horsman “… found him a rewarding pupil. In addition to his Jewish-American get-up-and-go and a formidable aesthetic and technical ability to combine hand and eye in making things… he developed a fierce creative intelligence and began to acquire the artistic integrity that would discipline all his future work.”
Dave returned to the US for his post-diploma at Scripps College in California with his Scottish wife Frances, to study with Paul Soldner, but decided that the Scottish climate suited him and came to live in his adopted home.
“American by birth, Scottish by choice” is how he used to describe himself. He returned to establish his studio in Juniper Green, raise four children and teach ceramics at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) from 1965 -86.
In 1975 the family moved to North Berwick where they established their home, art studios and gallery, continuing to operate to the present day. In 1986 Dave became Head of Ceramics at the Glasgow School of Art before his retirement in 1991.
Gordon Smith observed that: “Throughout his long career as a teacher Cohen worked incessantly at the studio complex he created. He contributed to most major national art exhibitions, sold steadily in commercial galleries, and had his work collected by all the major art institutions. He was adventurous, innovative and original. His most exciting work achieved a rare synthesis of seductive sculptural form and rich ceramic decoration.”
Another art critic , Cordelia Oliver, described a casserole dish she bought in 1967 as “…marvellously right and true in balance both visually and in the hand. This beautiful, useful object seemed to me to exemplify the falsity of the separating line that is often drawn between the so-called fine arts and the craftsman’s work at best.”
Dave was a passionate, generous and dedicated teacher. He loved his students and delighted in their shared energy and passion for creativity. He was strict but fair in his critique, always pushing his students to achieve everything they were capable of achieving. He developed a strong pedagogical foundation based on visual language and in 2012 co authored a textbook, Visual Language: Elements of Design. He also wrote The Basics of Throwing in 2008.
Oliver wrote about Cohen’s teaching practice. “ It is as a teacher that David Cohen has been able to share his experience and his knowledge in the nurturing of a succession of students. The pursuit of craftsmanship, he believes, is necessary to the development of the self in the individual – a development based on discipline, motivation, achievement and determination… the desire to give full expression to the creative spirit within oneself must be fed on continual practice and discovery in the chosen craft.”
Gordon Smith commented on Cohen’s teaching, stating that: “He sets great store by the exercise of visual language. In a teaching manifesto he insists vocabulary should be developed through a strong encouragement of drawing, collage, and three dimensional fabrication to keep ideas developing.”
Dave’s ceramic art continued to evolve during his long teaching career and throughout retirement. He never used teaching as an excuse for not being able create his work. Far from it. He never stopped making. The breadth of his work is remarkable in the exploration and application of the ceramic medium. As Oliver recognised: “ David Cohen’s mastery of craft has continued to keep pace with his creative imagination… from great, globular, one-off raku pots, their surfaces suffused with films of colour, to impressive lidded jars, angular, gilded and hieratic, like Samurai warriors, remain in the memory as real presences. His circular plates became the matrix for a long and impressive flowering of ideas in which signs and symbols are made to carry the intimations of the seasonal, as well as the human cycle of life and death.”
Dave’s influence in helping others stretched far and wide. He loved sharing his knowledge and skills with anyone who demonstrated an enthusiasm or need for making art no matter what their age, experience or ability. It was a great testament to his generosity and deep love for the creative spirit.
Christine Flynn, Chairman of the Scottish Potters Association, of which David was an enthusiastic supporter, upon hearing of his passing said he was “… a great inspiration to us all in the Scottish Potters Association. He will be greatly missed.”
Dave is survived by his loving wife Frances and four children, Kirstie, Scott, Esther and Ailie.
PROF SCOTT ANDERSON
“Clay from the earth, water, air, and fire are the essential elements associated with the creation and permanence of ceramic forms. Each element is dependent on the other in the making and finishing processes.
Clay needs water for workability, air for drying, and fire for permanency. Beyond this simple explanation lies an in depth investigation that seeks to reveal how and why these elements interact with each other, providing visual variety to the finished product. Clay is reusable time and time again if not fired; I cannot think of another material, which is as flexible, easily found, and reconstituted so easily. For all of these reasons, for me, clay is magic.
How and why materials interact with each other applies also to the assessment of design. Clay is the material I choose to realise my designs.
My work over the last 50 years has evolved around three themes, primary geometric shapes, the human figure, and nature. These themes have also been used in conjunction with each other. I have become aware, that in order to communicate my creative intentions in a visual way, a visual language is necessary for my critical assessment and the development of my work.
Visual vocabulary informs the composition of my designs through the reflection and assessment of visual elements like; line, shape, tone, colour, texture, form, scale, space, and light. This vocabulary can be seen in everything that is visible.
These elements, like the letters of an alphabet, either singularly, or in combination with each other, are capable of creating visual meaning.
I recognise these elements as being the foundation of my visual world. Three primary guides remain central to my on going self reflection and assessment in the creation of my work; Intention (The initial inspiration for what I would like to make based on my initial design concept, theme, feeling, sketch) Selection (visual elements, materials, combination of materials, design, firing process; these are carefully assessed, understood, selected and applied to create the work) and critical assessment, (evaluating how closely the finished work relates to my intentions and using this evaluation to realise my next intention). I see my creative approach as a cyclical exploration of infinite possibilities.
My interests have evolved around installations based on modular structures. Clay, from the beginning of civilisation has been utilised for the purpose of construction. Tiles and bricks are two examples of clay ‘modules’ used for both utility and decoration.
The plate form is a module I use to create my large wall compositions. Geometric and nature themes have inspired my constructions of various dimensions and shapes. The architectural spaces that accommodate these installations have also influenced the final design.
I also use the module concept in the design of outdoor and garden sculpture. A module of extruded clay is assembled to create three-dimensional forms of infinite variety. Through experimenting, manipulating, and cutting the extrusion, a form can be created that is complimentary to the natural environment it is located in.” Dave Cohen
Further reading on the ideas presented in this statement can be found in David Cohen’s books: A Visual Language; elements of design, A&C Black Publishers, 2006 and The Basics of Throwing, A&C Black Publishers, 2008.
1965-86 Lecturer in Ceramics, Edinburgh College of Art
1986-91 Head of Ceramics. Glasgow School of Art
1947-51 Carpentry apprenticeship
1953-54 U.S Navy, Metalsmith School
1957-58 Layton Art School
1958-62 Edinburgh College of Art
1962-63 Fellowship Scripp’s College
1963 Iowa State University
1970 Haystack, Hinckley School of Crafts, Maine
1971 University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
1975-78 Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, Israel
1978 Haifa University. Israel
1979 South Carolina Museum School, U.S.A
1982-83 Highland Craftpoint, Beauly, Scotland
1980-84 Ulster University, Northern Ireland
1985 Baer Sheva University, Israel
1989 Lecture tour, U.S.A:
1990 International Potters Camp, Aberystwyth. Wales
1991 Maryland Institute of Art and Design. Baltimore
1991 Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia Pa.
1991 Moorhead State College. Minn.
1991 Art Institute Chicago,.
1991 Ohio University. Athens. Ohio
1991 University of Wisconsin. Milwaukee
1991 Mt. Hood Community College, Portland, Oregon USA
2001 Rock Creek Community College, Portland, Oregon
2001 Sylvania Community College, Portland, Oregon USA
2001 Cascade Community College. Portland. Oregon USA
2001 Racine, Wisconsin, Craft Museum
2001 Province Town Gallery and Museum, Province Town
2005 Cape Cod, Mass. U.S.A.
1956 Motion Display Co. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
1960 Product Design, Henry Wylie and Partners. Edinburgh Scotland
1964 Kilncroft Studios, self-established, Edinburgh
1968 Design Consultant to Charies Henshaw Foundry. Edinburgh
1975 Arts Council Awards Selection Committee
1979 Studio and kiln consultant, Scottish Development Agency
1979 Council. Scottish Society of Artists
1980 Scottish Craft Exhibition, Sheffield Museum, England
1983 British Craft Exhibition, Houston, Texas, U.S.A
1984 British Ceramics, Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh
1984 Fine Art and Craft Exhibition, Rufford art Centre, Nottingham, England
1984 Stoke-on-Trent City Museum. Stoke-on-Trent. England
1985 Scottish Development Agency Collection Exhibition, City Art Centre, Edin.
1987 Select Show of Scottish Ceramics, Perth, Australia
1988 Boundary Gallery. London
1989 Compass Gallery. Glasgow
1990 Usiskin Gallery, London
1991 Compass Gallery, Glasgow
1993 Glasgow City Arts Museum. Glasgow
1994 Booth House Gallery. Holmfirth, England
1995 Glasgow School of Art, solo exhibition. Glasgow
1996 Ayr Art Festival, Maclaurin Art Gallery, Ayr
1997 Aberdeen Art Gallery, solo exhibition, Aberdeen
1998 Maclaurin Art Gallery, educational, Ayr
1998 Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery. Continental Shift
1998 North Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, solo exhibition, Scotland
1999 Paisley Museum and Art Gallery, solo exhibition, Scotland
1999 Royal Museum of Scotland, mixed craft exhibition
2000 East Kilbride Art Centre, solo garden exhibition
2000 East Kilbride Art Centre, raku exhibition
2002 Gallery Heinzel, Aberdeen, Scotland
2004 Broadfield House Glass Museum, Kingswinford, UK
2006 Stenton Gallery, East Lothian Scotland
2012 Aberdeen Art Gallery, Solo Exhibition – Gone Bananas
2016 The Jewish Museum London Shaping the Past: Exploring Jewish Heritage Through The Art Of Ceramics
1964 Copper and wood sculpture, Edinburgh
1966 Ceramic mural, East Kilbride Computer Centre
1969 Aluminium mural, restaurant, Edinburgh
1970 Aluminium war memorial mural, Inverness Post Office, Scotland
1972 Aluminium and ceramic sculpture, James Marshall Architects. Edinburgh
1973 Wrought iron and cast aluminium mural, pub, Edinburgh
1974 Public water fountain (bronze), Edinburgh
1978 Cast aluminium and ceramic font, Unitarian Church, Edinburgh
1980 Ceramic garden sculpture. Carnegie Park, Dunfermline. Scotland
1998 Pavillion Restaurant, Edinburgh
1998 De Mare Fish Restaurant, Edinburgh
1999 Heriot Watt Business School
1970 BBC Television, education film on ceramics (15 min)
1972 BBC Television, programme on own work and studio (30 min)
1975 Radio Forth, programme on the development of own work
1984 Video for T.V, Programme on Raku (own work). (12 min)
1985 Article of Craft Work Magazine
1997 Large Scale Ceramics by Jim Robison Pub. A and C Black, London
1998 Video for North Berwick Exhibition (Raku) ‘The Clay Garden” 8 minutes
2004 Tim Andrew’s book on Raku Pub. A&C Black, London
2005 A Visual Language: elements of design, published by A&C Black, London
2005 Revised Second Edition Large Scale Ceramics A&C Black, London
2007 The Basics of Throwing, published by A&C Black, London 2008
Purchase Award Sacramento Craft Museum
Copenhagen Craft Museum
Glasgow City Art Museum
National Museum of Scotland
Leeds City Museum
Huntley House Museum, Edinburgh
Paisley Museum, Scotland
Stoke-on-Trent City Museum
Jerusalem University Museum, Israel
Perth Craft Collection, Australia
Scottish Development Agency Craft Collection: Purchases 1980,84,85,89
Queen Mother’s Collection
Victoria and Albert Museum Ceramic Collection, London
Dundee City Art Museum
Milngavie Art Centre, Glasgow
Aberdeen City Art Gallery
North Berwick Museum and Art Gallery
Milwaukee Art Institute U.S.A.
Baltimore Art Institute, U.S.A.
Ohio University, U.S.A.
Hood Community College, Portland .Oregon, USA
North Berwick Art Museum 1998, 2000
Heriot Watt University 2000, 2006