Reiko Cohen moved to Echizen from Kyoto when her husband Ben’s fascination with the ceramic works of Soji Hamada inspired him to train in ceramics. Sadly, Ben’s success in ceramics ended too soon when he was struck with a progressive neurodegenerative disease (ALS). During his illness, local community potters helped Ben produce his work, but Cohen felt something was missing. Knowing his work so intimately and being his greatest critic, she decided to take on the production of her husband’s work in hopes of carrying on his legacy.
Twenty years have passed since Ben’s death, and while his presence is still evident in Cohen’s studio, her own voice as an artist has emerged. When asked about the differences between her work and her husband’s, she says, “Ben tended to make rounded forms, but I favor tall and angular forms.” Cohen’s interest in Ikebana has led her to create vessels that celebrate the flower. Some of these vessels are thin, tubular forms, acting as an extension of the stem. Others have larger bellies with small openings, making the flora appear to be sprouting from the vessel itself. Each piece is carefully arranged so that the vessel form and floral display highlight each other. She has also recently begun to add rectilinear elements to her work in materials such as lacquer, iron, and wood. These additions serve as pedestals and framing devices for the pieces.
Cohen fires her work in a kiln built by Ben prior to his illness. The kiln is a blend between an anagama and noborigama. It is significantly taller than a standard anagama, and while this design is easier to load, it is very difficult to maintain an even temperature from top to bottom. Uniquely, Cohen uses cedar to fuel her kiln. Cedar burns very quickly compared to more commonly used woods. She typically uses 2,600 bundles of wood for a four- to five-day firing, as opposed to the approximately 500 bundles of oak other Echizen potters would use. The cedar produces a dry, matte appearance on the surfaces of her work. Cohen always feels Ben with her in the studio. She laughingly explained, “My feelings about Ben can change depending on how the firing is going.”