The opportunity to get to know, on a personal level, some of the jewelers whose biographies are included in my book, Modernist Jewelry, 1930-1960, The Wearable Art Movement, has been the most rewarding outcome of the project and I am very pleased to present this article about one of the loveliest of these people, Lois Franke Warren.  

My introduction to Lois Franke Warren was her book  Handwrought Jewelry. Published in 1962, it continues to be an indispensable resource for collectors of American studio jewelry. The book is a "how to" handbook for studio jewelers that contains photographs of the work of twenty-six  jewelers who were working at the time, many who became well-recognized figures in the field of American Studio Jewelry.  


Lois received her B.A. in Art from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and her M.A. in art, with a thesis in Forged Jewelry, from California State College in Los Angeles. She is well versed in all aspects of jewelry making. In 1950, she studied silversmithing and ceramics with Carleton Ball at Mills College, Oakland, California as well as ceramics with Laura Andreson at the University of California, Los Angeles.  In 1951, she studied silversmithing with Hudson Roysher at Chouinard Art Institute and was one of only twelve in the U.S. to be chosen to work under Baron Erik Fleming at the now famous Handy and Harman Silversmithing Conferences.

Between 1955-1960, Lois studied enameling with master enamellist Atzie Schiff in Los Angeles and, in 1957, was given sabbatical leave to research historical jewelry and silversmithing in Europe. Between 1963 and 1964, she studied gemology through the Gemological Institute of America, becoming a Graduate Gemologist and being awarded a Fellow Diploma from the Gemological Association of Great Britain. In 1976, she studied diamond setting with Grant Alford in Los Angeles.


Lois Franke Warren has also had a remarkable career as a teacher, including working for the Los Angeles City School District as Chairman of the Art Department and Teacher of Art, Art Crafts, Jewelry, and Ceramics from 1947-1967. During that period, she led many workshops and seminars dealing with jewelry and crafts.  From 1967-1971, she was Professor of Art History and Humanities for the Los Rios Community College District. 

Recently, Lois agreed to tell the interesting and poignant stories of how her jewelry came about.

Marbeth Schon

The above biographical information was partially derived from my book, "Modernist Jewelry, 1930-1960, The Wearable Art Movement," pages 233-235.  

Lois Franke Warren -- In Her Own Words

Ever since I can remember, Creating "Things" has been a part of my life--crocheting, knitting, gluing pieces of wood together to make toys, making paper chains to decorate our Christmas Tree, etc.  I had very little instruction in any of these ventures. When I was about five or six years old, my mother showed me how she did  basic stitches of crocheting and knitting and I was "on my own." 

 It never occurred to me that one had to be "taught" how to do things. For instance, my mother came home from a party one evening with a little duck figure made by twisting a pipe cleaner. I was fascinated and begged her to get me some pipe cleaners, which she did.  It was getting close  to Christmas and as a gift for my mother, I envisioned a scene with little houses, carolers singing outside the houses, Santa and his sleigh and reindeer, as well as a dog, cat, and rooster.  My houses were made of Blue Diamond match boxes and construction paper; the carolers were dressed in Christmas ribbon with stickers for song books; and the sleigh was made from a small tin can which I laboriously cut with not very sharp tin snips and then bent into the wonderful curly shape of a sleigh. Mother was pleased with this gift and it was set up each year at Christmas. She carefully saved the whole scene and I still display it at Christmas seventy years later!


From the time I was a toddler, my mother emphasized the possibility that I might have to earn my own living and I knew very early that I would be a teacher.  At that time, the primary career choices for women were teaching, secretarial work, and nursing. My handwriting was abominable, so being a secretary was out, and nursing had various onerous tasks that didn't appeal to me at all, and mother, whom I adored, was a teacher--thus I chose teaching. 

The innate joy I felt when working with my hands was the catalyst for my eventual decision to become a craft's teacher.  I entered UCLA as an Art major with an emphasis on three dimensional design.  I learned ceramics, jewelry, weaving, leather work, and bookbinding, as well as design and all the basic art classes for an art teaching major.  Each of these disciplines was fascinating and I could have decided to create in any of them. I chose jewelry, however, primarily because my first apartment had only one room, with a tiny kitchen and bath.  I could make jewelry in the breakfast nook with minimal equipment. Any of the other fields required a large outlay for equipment and room to house it.  Thus, I became a jeweler, a career that still gives me great pleasure.

The Stories Behind the Jewelry

 

Freeform Pin with Amethyst, ca. 1952
Collection of Joanne and Fred Doloresco

This pin was made fairly early in my career. The freeform, abstract design was a deliberate move away from the traditional symmetrical patterns of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods as well as the styles of the early 1900s. 


 Picasso, Arp, Calder, and others were having an impact on all of the arts with their emphasis on shape and color.  The construction of this pin is flat sheet silver, sawed, formed and soldered, with the recessed background oxidized for contrast. The prong setting for the stone was handmade.  (Page 184, in my book, "Handwrought Jewelry")

In teaching jewelry design and construction, it was important to have examples for the student's to see and touch.  In the early 1950s, the only "how to" books on jewelry were very outdated, especially  in the design examples, so creating contemporary pieces was a significant teaching technique.

 Freeform Ring
Collection of Joanne and Fred Doloresco

The history of this ring is essentially the same as that of the Amethyst Pin (above). However, it was made to match a pendant of similar design (see the illustration on pages 53 & 125 in my book).  I was struggling with the design and construction for this matching ring and finally decided to "sleep on it."  During the night, a dream began to develop.  The design and construction became quite clear, and abruptly I woke up. "That's it", I thought, so I dashed into my studio and carefully drew the design, and how the construction would be done, and went back to sleep. 

 

(I somehow knew that if I waited until morning, the concept might fade back into my dreams).  The next morning, I wondered if it was all just a dream--but there on my desk was the design and construction neatly drawn.  The construction is flat sheet silver, sawed and shaped. There are several pieces, cut and angled to crate the sharp edges, and the pieces are then carefully soldered together.  The inner sections were designed to appear to float over the oxidized hollow below.

Sterling Silver Lidded Bowl, 1953
Collection of the artist

This footed bowl was made by raising a flat circle of 18 gauge sterling. Raising is a technique whereby the metal is gradually compressed with a highly polished raising hammer to shrink and thicken the circumference of the circle of metal. The lid was also raised and the knob is ebony.

Sterling Silver Place Setting, 1954, One of Six Settings
Collection of the artist

In forging the set of flatware it was necessary to work all six of each utensil at the same time, so that they would be identically shaped. The metal had to be worked until it hardened and then annealed to make it soft so that it could be worked again and again until the basic shape was formed. At each step, each of the bars of silver had to be hammered to the same size and shape.

 

Forged Sterling Spoon
(born of adversity)
Collection of the artist

I learned that forging was a wonderful means of reducing the stress of frustration.  I had been working on a large, forged hollowware bowl, and the instructor kept redesigning the base I was trying to create.  After having him redesign three different variations of the base, each of which I made, only to have him reject them, he finally came up with another redesign.  I thought this would surely be the last revision--I was running out of time to complete the project. But, that morning, he said, "This is all wrong. Go back and work on a completely different concept." I was furious and frustrated. It was bout 10:00 AM, and I went back to the studio, picked up a bar of sterling silver and my three pound forging hammer, and began to beat on the metal. Mentally, with each blow, I was taking out my frustration with my instructor.

 I worked all day, and into the evening, and by midnight I had forged a large silver serving spoon, complete except for the final polishing.  I was exhausted, but totally pleased , satisfied with my accomplishment, and no longer frustrated.  The next day, spying the spoon on my bench, he remarked, "My! When did you do this?"  I smiled and said, "Yesterday!"

14K Gold Pendant with Peridot and Diamonds, 1965
Collection of the artist

This piece is very special to me. It all began with my studies in gemology, where I learned about the characteristics of colored gem stones, and how they could be positively identified. A few weeks into the program I was discussing gem identification with a jeweler friend of mine who asked me if broken stones would be of any use to me.  He worked for a major jewelry company in Los Angeles where he often had to replace broken gemstones, and consequently had a lot of gem fragments.  

Since in gem identification, it matters little if a stone is broken, so long as it has a polished surface, I thought it would be wonderful to have unknown pieces to identify. 

One day, he brought me some of these stones, among which was a very large emerald cut green stone with one corner broken off. It turned out to be a Peridot of very fine quality, and (as an extra bonus), Peridot is my birth stone!  It seemed a shame to have a stone of that size (about 1" x 1") just stored in a drawer, so I took it to another friend who was a major gem dealer, and asked him if it could be re-cut into a useable gem stone. He said yes, and in a week or so he returned the stone which he had personally cut into a lovely asymmetrical shape and there was no charge for his work.

It was spring and the hillsides were ablaze with wild flowers and while walking near my apartment in the  Hollywood Hills one morning I saw the bright yellow flowers and angular shapes of the stems and leaves of Scotch Broom.  I thought of the shape of the Peridot, with its similar angular shapes.  With forged bars of gold, I tried to capture the feeling of this plant as a setting for the peridot. Later, another dear friend saw my design taking shape and as a birthday surprise, he gave me five small diamonds to represent the early morning dewdrops I had seen on the plant. Thus, what seems to be another piece of jewelry to others, is to me a reminder of three dear friends who gave me a priceless gift of their time and talents to help me become a gemologist and to create a special piece of jewelry that recalls their friendship each time I wear the pendant.

Sterling Silver and Square Amethyst, 1985
Collection of Jim Estey, Placerville, California

One flat piece of 16 gauge sheet sterling was sawed and folded to make the body of the ring. The top edges were bent at right angles. The bezel setting was set into the ring so it would appear to float.

Collection of Marbeth Schon

Sterling and  Enamel Square Pendants--homage to Fred Ball

These two pendants have both a sad and inspirational story. It begins with the wonderful experimental enamel work of Fred Ball. His mother Kathryn and his father Carleton were both superb artists--Kathryn in painting, drawing and enameling, and Carleton, in ceramics. Carleton left the family when Fred was five years old, leaving Kathryn to take care of her aging parents and to raise Fred. 

By the age of twelve, Fred was demonstrating enameling at the California State Fair with his mother and growing bored with doing the same old techniques of enameling bowls.  Recognizing his frustration, his mother said, "I'm going for lunch. Why don't you experiment?"  He did experiment, and his interest grew through his High School and College years. During his college experience he spent a year in a college program sailing around the world and meeting craftsmen of many cultures.  

Returning to Sacramento, he began his career of making his living as an enamellist. Having little income, he developed his experimental enameling techniques using non-traditional techniques and materials. This led to his book, "Experimental Techniques in Enameling."

Collection of David Warren, Sacramento, California

His reputation grew and he was awarded "Art in Public Places" contracts and commissions from many corporations in Sacramento and elsewhere.  In 1985, he was beginning to "take off" in his profession with several new, very large commissions.  One September evening in 1985, he was leaving his studio--a loft space in downtown Sacramento when he was attacked by thugs, robbed, pushed down the stairs, and left unconscious on the street.  His neck was broken and he was left totally paralyzed.  Taken to the hospital, he was stabilized, but needed to be on a respirator. He could only blink his eyes to communicate. He had several commissions starter for which he had already purchased materials. In the succeeding months, his mother, and a young man who was Fred's assistant, completed these large jig-saw like works. They would bring the portions they were working on and show them to Fred, asking questions and pointing to  letters. He  would respond with "yes" or "no" blinks. In addition to the commissions, Fred had just completed a series of works for an exhibition at a local art gallery.  His friends got together and mounted the pieces--a series of 12" squares with transparent enamels over foil squares. I was fortunate to be able to purchase one of those squares.  

Fred died that December from complications of his injury.  His mother (at age seventy-five and in poor health), with the help of Fred's assistant, completed all his commissions in the months following his death. One of these is a five foot by forty foot mural in a local hospital lobby.

Prior to the tragic attack, I had been totally impressed with the work Fred had done and I had created enamel and jewelry pieces influenced by his experimental work. I had also begun a series of paintings based on a huge mural he had completed for a building here in Sacramento. In 1986, a year after his death, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento had a retrospective of Fred's work. In conjunction with that show, I was invited to have an "Homage to Fred" exhibition of my jewelry, enameling, and paintings that were based on his work and his influence on me. The two pendants are based on the 12" squares from his last show, and were part of my exhibition.

These pendants are very special to me because of their association with a truly exceptional artist who was also a kind and giving person and a great friend.

Fred's Wall
 "The Way Home" by Fred Uhl Ball

The World's largest hand fired copper enamel mural. It is on the West Wall of the parking structure next to the Holiday Inn on 3rd Street between J Street and Capitol Mall in Downtown Sacramento, California

Sterling Star Pendant, 2001
Private collection

This pendant was created entirely of "boomerang" shapes hammered out of square sterling silver wire. Forging is one of my favorite techniques for making interesting shapes without losing any metal, as happens with sawing shapes from sheet silver. With polished hammers of various shapes, the metal can be stretched to make it wider, or longer, and thinner, or compressed to make it thicker. The possibilities of creating interesting shapes are endless.  This pendant was commissioned to be auctioned at a fund-raising event for Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum.

 

 Sterling Silver and Shell Pendant and Earrings, 2002
Collection of Ann Winship,
Woodland, Callifornia

This set was forged from sterling silver square wire.  The shapes were completely formed by hammering with a highly polished cross peen hammer and planished (or polished) with a  mirror finish planishing hammer.

 

 Gold and Sterling Silver Pendant/Glasses Case, 2000
Collection of the artist

In the year 2000, the Curator of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento became interested in hosting the exhibition "The Art of Gold," that was to be organized by The Society of American Goldsmiths. He approached the Creative Arts League of Sacramento (CAL) to see if we were interested in being the sponsor of this show. The Creative Arts League is a small organization of dedicated women who have been active in the fields of Contemporary Crafts for over fifty years, and during that time have mounted of twenty major exhibitions of Contemporary Crafts at the Crocker Art Museum. After much discussion, CAL agreed that we would be the sole sponsor of the exceptional show of American Goldsmiths, and that we would raise the money necessary to bring it to California.

 

Inasmuch as California has the rich history of The Gold Rush of 1849, it was thought that a concurrent exhibition of California Goldsmiths and also Gold Rush artifacts should be a part of the total presentation.

As a  member of CAL, as well as being a gold and silversmith, I was asked to be a consultant on the show and also was commissioned to make a piece for it.

The concept for the piece I was to make began to develop at a dinner party at a very elegant restaurant. As is often the case in elegant restaurants, the lights were dim and the print on the menu was small.  Our hostess reached into her evening bag and pulled out a tiny pair of folding reading glasses.

Aha! That's it, I thought to myself. The challenge was to create a glasses case that was tiny enough to be an exquisite piece of jewelry, and yet, easily hold the folding glasses. The criteria for the pieces to be displayed in "The Art of Gold" show were that they must primarily emphasize the "Art of Gold," however other materials could be included.

Since I liked the idea of gold on black and since sterling can be oxidized to a deep black, silver could be the background for tiny, randomly placed gold balls. Working out the construction details so that the case could be easily opened and yet have it look like fine jewelry was the exciting part of the problem, making the tiny individual spheres of gold, and keeping them in place while soldering them was the arduous part.  I expect that there are still tiny balls of gold lurking in my studio carpet. The handmade chain with tiny crops of gold on each link completed the feeling of elegant jewelry that was also a practical container.

"The Art of Gold" exhibition catalog

 "Choker #83, 2000" 
by Mary Hu, 22k and 18k gold

photographer: E.G .Schempf

 

Lois Franke Warren in her studio, ca. 2005

Lois Franke Warren's hallmark

___________________________________________

 

Article by Lois Franke Warren with Marbeth Schon
photos courtesy of Lois Franke Warren and Marbeth Schon

Web design by Marbeth Schon

 Copyright   Modern Silver magazine 2005 and Lois Franke Warren
    
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