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Obituary of John E. Cogswell

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John E. Cogswell, born in Cortland, NY, on August 24, 1948, passed away January 24, 2024, at the age of 75. An educator, author/illustrator, and professional gold- and silversmith for over 40 years, John leaves behind friends, family, colleagues, and the innumerable students, whose lives he enriched with his generosity and kindness.


He is predeceased by his beloved wife of more than 35 years, Barbara Chapman, and is survived by his brother James Cogswell, of Cincinnatus, NY; sister, Karen Stevens (husband Duane) of Christiansburgh, VA; brother, Steven Cogswell (wife Nancy) of Las Vegas, NV; brother, and Michael Cogswell (wife Deanna) of Constantia, NY, as well as several nieces, nephews, and cousins.

John was known for his dry sense of humor and gentleness, his unwavering dedication to preserving the craft of metalsmithing through education, and for his insistence that chalkboards are superior educational tools to whiteboards.

John found a love of art from his father, who built bodies for Brockway Trucks as a welder and sheet metalworker but who kept work and home separate. ln his second semester at college, John saw a basic jewelry making class listed and immediately signed up for it.

He later discovered that the teacher had, herself, only a two-day weekend workshop to learn what she was to teach, but her honest, enthusiastic and humorous approach were enough; John fell in love with the materials, tools, and processes. A guest instructor introduced John to forging metal and he soon found himself driving several hours each way, every Saturday, to study with him. John converted the attic of an old, rented farmhouse into a modest studio. It was unheated, and in winter, so cold his pickle (a solution used to clean heat-darkened metal) would often be frozen, come morning, but he generated enough heat hammering (and with his forge) to keep warm.

A local watchmaker saw John’s work and offered him a job, and he would soon begin teaching for the first time, sponsored by a local arts and crafts association. A voracious reader, John soaked up every bit of metalworking knowledge he could on his own, until eventually deciding to go back to school, attending SUNY New Paltz. While there, John was invited to assist one of his professors, becoming Kurt Matzdorf’s protégé and studio assistant. He began getting invitations to conduct workshops elsewhere. A natural-born educator, John believed teaching was a way to give back, in thanks for what others had taught him, and encouraged his own students to do the same.

In addition to teaching at institutions such as the Parsons School of Design, the Pratt Institute, Hofstra University, and SUNY, John would go on to teach hundreds of workshops around the country throughout his long career, sharing his vast experience with thousands of students. His book “Creative Stonesetting” (Brynmorgen Press), is considered a seminal work in the field, inspiring metalsmiths around the world.

John’s professional work focused on hand-forged and fabricated jewelry, silverware, and hollowware. He was frequently commissioned to craft ceremonial objects for churches and synagogues, such as communion cups, candelabras, hanukkiahs and tzedakah boxes. He delighted in how malleable metal could be and had an immaculate attention to detail, taking particular pride in subtleties, such as how a properly polished cup would bring a warm glow to sacramental wine.

John is an inductee of the National Metalsmiths Hall of Fame (housed at The Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida), and was a Touchstone Center for Crafts 2007 Artist of the Year. His art has appeared in numerous exhibitions and publications, and is included in many public and private collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Jewish Museum (New York), and the Ackland Museum of Art (Chapel Hill).

John and his wife Barbara were cat lovers, caring for many feral and rescue cats through the years. They were generous supporters of the arts and of education. John served on the boards of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) and Brookfield Craft Center (CT), and on the advisory board of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (TN). He held a key role at the 92nd Street Y (NY) as their Director of Jewelry and Metalsmithing, for nearly two decades.

No public services will be held. The family encourages donations in his memory to any of the non-profit arts and education institutions with which John was involved, including Haystack Mountain School (ME), Brookfield Craft Center (CT), Touchstone Center for the Crafts (PA), Penland School (NC), Florida Society of Goldsmiths (FL), and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (TN), or to your local catch-neuter-and-release program for cats.

Copeland-Hammerl Funeral Home is honored to assist the family with these arrangements.

Online condolences may be left for the family at www.copelandhammerl.com

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