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Some little-known (to me)
Enamelists I'd like to know better!

         by
         Patrick Kapty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio del Campo sculpture

Photograph courtesy of Sam Kaufman Gallery


***Warning! If you're looking for a scholarly treatise on Enamel work through the ages that covers every important development since Man first fused glass, then skip this article and head straight to the bibliography. What follows is the often confused and rambling musings and outright opinions of an enamel amateur – a true lover of enamel! Short on facts and long on obsession, and full of gorgeous pictures of amazing enamel artworks by little-known (to me) enamel artists I'd like to know better!***

 

 

Anonymous enamel fish plaques

photograph courtesy of
Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern


Mankind has admired the rich colors and luminous, mysterious qualities of fine enamel-work for most of it's recorded history. The earliest known examples date from 4000 BC from ancient Egypt. Since that time, nearly every culture in every corner of the world has carried on a love affair with this most beautiful of decorative arts. From little specks of color dangling from a woman's ears to architectural installations in skyscrapers and ocean liners, enamel has been used to decorate almost every aspect of our lives.

Chinese enamel clock front and back

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two enamel plaques signed "JD"

Photograph courtesy of
Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

 

Much has been written about the long and fascinating history of enamel-work and the many great artists that have chosen this art for their own. Anyone interested in enamel could not have missed the recently published book, “Painting with Fire” that presents many of the best-known American enamel artists of the 20th century.

Here I'll be presenting you with some works by little-known or even unknown enamel artists from the US and elsewhere. To be clear, 'little-known' does not imply of little artistic or monetary value. Also, little-known can change to well-known in the blink of a virtual typewriter key!

Anonymous enamel & brass wall sculpture, USA

Photograph courtesy of
Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

Enamel on copper bowl by Hillary

Photograph by Shirley Byrne

Al Aston enamel painting

Photograph courtesy of
Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

Al Aston enamel painting

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

 

 

After the Second World War there was a renaissance in the arts and crafts worldwide. Enamel-work was not an exception. Among the well-known American studio jewelers that worked in enamel, the great Earl Pardon comes to mind, along with Frank Rebajes and Mildred Ball.

Mildred Ball enamel on copper bowl

Photograph by Shirley Byrne


One of the lesser known enamel workshops is the Bovano Company of Cheshire, Connecticut. Bovano was founded in 1953 by the three partners John Bonsignor, Gene Van Leight, and Warren Noden, and is still making quality enamel-work to this day.

Bovano,USA, label

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

 

Bovano, USA, two enamel plaques

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty
California Dreamin Retro Modern

 


Some of their early designs have been continuously produced since the 1950s and are available online through their website. Annemarie Davidson of Sierra Madre, California, first started enameling back in 1957, and though she's best-known for her abstract enamel plates, she has for many years also done a line of whimsical figural works.

The California company, Matisse-Renoir, often gets left off the list because their enameled jewelry was production (made in multiples) rather than unique. They made stunning mid-century designs that rank with the best of the period.

The owner/designer Jerry Fels later made equally eye-catching wall sculptures under the name, Jere, a little-known connection in the collecting world.

Jere table sculpture

Photograph courtesy of Marbeth Schon
M. Schon Modern
 

Matisse of California enamel bracelet

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

 


Other American little-known enamelists of note include: Louise Evans, Al Aston, Judith Dehner, Margaret S. Hall of Encino California, and Mary Sharp. Two firms for whom I haven't been able to uncover much biographical information are: California Cloisonne by Landau & Associates of Los Angeles California, and Edwards Star Originals for Gumps of San Francisco.

Enamel-work in Europe was also very widespread and popular in the 1950s and 60s, continuing a tradition that stretches back centuries. The Norwegians have so many great enamelists that I often think they must outnumber the non-enamelists in that country.

David-Andersen, Norway, enamel brooch from the "Four Seasons" series

Photograph courtesy of Shirley Byrne

 


Sweden brings to mind for me the great Sigurd Perrson, and especially his large enameled church commissions of that era. In Denmark, Henning Koppel designed his silver and enamel abstract jewelry masterpieces that are timeless and elegant. Ginger Moro's classic “European Designer Jewelry” includes many great examples of fine European enameled jewelry from Art Nouveau at the turn of the century up to the 1960s and 70s.

Perli Werkstatte cloisonné bracelet

Photograph courtesy of Shirley Byrne

 


I can't leave out the author and artist, Oppi Untracht, whose books are full of pictures of well and little-known artists work from the period. His wife, Saara Hopea-Untracht, was also known for her enameled silver jewelry.

For me, the Italians made some of the most astounding and extravagant artworks in enamel of all time. And it's not something that they just pulled out of a hat after the war, but is part of a lengthy tradition that goes back millenia to the Ancient Romans. An amazing book on Italian medieval and renaissance enameling by Filippo Rossi, “Italian Jeweled Arts”, is a must-have for anyone interested in antique jewelry or enameling art.

Enameled Base Lamp, Italy

Photo courtesy of Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts


Probably the most famous of 20th century Italian enamelists is Paolo de Poli (1905-1984). His work is much sought-after and very expensive, but there are several others who created superb enamel-work of the first quality, and aren't as well-known yet.



Gufoaccaio

Photo courtesy of Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts

 

 

 

 

Paolo DePoli enamel bowl

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern


The Communita Artistica was started around 1952 by a group of art-school graduates who had been inspired to work in enameling by an exhibition of the work of the Benedictine monks from Liguge, France. The monks worked primarily in a technique known as grisaille d'or. (Grisaille d'or is laying on of contrasting darker layers of enamel over an underlayer of gold enamel.)

Communita Artistica enamel box

Photo courtesy of Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts

 


In 1957, two members of the Communita Artistica left to form their own workshop, the Studio del Campo. These members, Virgilio Bari and Euclide Chianbretti, with their wives Lidia Lafanconi and Bianca Tuninetto, did everything from design to the production of their enameled artworks, though they did occasionally work with other artists, most notably Gio Ponti.

Studio del Campo enamel plaques

photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern


The Studio del Campo's larger works were very expensive in their day, costing from $3-5000 which was the price of a luxury car at that time.

Studio del Campo sculpture

Photo courtesy of Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts

 


Another little-known Italian workshop that did marvelous work in enamel was the Ottaviani company. Started in 1945 in the small seaside town of Recanti, according to a former employee most of their early records were destroyed in a fire, but their splendid enamels speak for themselves. There are many other Italian workshops of the first quality about whom little to nothing is known, though their artworks continue to delight to this day.

Ottaviani enamel & silver wall plaque

Photo courtesy of Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts

 





Ottaviani enamel & silver
rosewood box

Photo courtesy of Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts

 


In Mexico, the word Enamel usually occurs in the same sentence with the name “Margot”. Margot Van Voorhies Carr was an American artist/designer that traveled to Mexico, and fell in love with the country, and with her new Mexican husband, Antonio Castillo. She is the creator of some of the most elaborate and beautiful designs in silver and enamel jewelry from Mexico. 


Another American-born woman, Maggie Howe, arrived on the scene a bit later, and not only created some wonderful designs in enamel, but also taught many aspiring young artists, including the well-known Miguel Pineda (b.1940), and organized an artist's collective and gallery in Mexico City that is still in business today. The work by Miguel Pineda that I have seen varies from abstract modernist to pre-Columbian-influenced designs. His work compares favorably with the best.

Maggie Howe enamel on copper bowl

Photograph by Shirley Byrne
M. Schon Modern

 

Miguel Pineda Aztec tiger enamel plaque

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern

Information from the back of the Miguel Pineda enamel Aztec tiger plaque

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern


A wise seasoned jewelry-collector once told me to see with the eyes of a newborn, without prejudice and with wonder. First and foremost, enamel-work should we beautiful (at least to you), and only later should you consider 'who' made it. Often these little masterpieces by little-known or unknown artists can be the most delightful if only because they are unexpected.

Orzet, 1974, enamel plaque

Photo courtesy of Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts

 


SOME ENAMELING TERMS

     

  • Basse-taille – involves working the surface of the metal in a low relief design underneath a transparent or translucent enamel.

  • Champleve – the surface is carved out to form pits in which the enamel is fired and leaving the original metal exposed.

  • Cloisonne – where thin wires are applied to the metal surface to form sections which contain enamel.

  • Grisaille – where a darker layer of enamel is applied first, usually black or dark blue, then many layers of a lighter enamel are applied creating many shades of in-between colors, usually gray hence the name Gris- which is French for gray.

  • Grisaille d'Or – similar to Grisaille, but with the underlayer being gold instead of black or another dark color. This same technique has been used with other colors like silver etc.

  • Limoges enamel – from Limoges, France, but especially a style of painterly enamel-work.

  • Plique-a-jour – similar to cloisonne, but without a backing so that the finished enamel looks like stained glass. Very fragile and very beautiful!

  • Sgrafitto – the opposite of grisaille, where the two layers of contrasting colors are applied and scratched thru the upper layer to show the underlayer with varied thicknesses of line and shapes.

 


SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY


Oppi Untracht

  • Jewelry: Concepts and Technology (1982)

  • Metal Techniques for Craftsmen (1968)

  • Enameling on Metal (1957)


Burkholz & Kaplan

  • Copper Art Jewelry: A Different Lustre (1992)

Jazzar & Nelson

  • Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980 (2006)

Lilyan Bachrach

  • Enameling with Professionals (2002)


Kenneth Bates

  • Enameling: Principles & Practice (1951)


Drutt-English & Dormer

  • Jewelry of Our Time: Art, Ornament and Obsession (1995)


Cindi Strauss et al

  • Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection (2007)

Ginger Moro

  • European Designer Jewelry (1995)

Filippo Rossi

  • Italian Jeweled Arts (1954)

 

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____________________

Article by “Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern”
(760) 671-4879
 http://stores.ebay.com/California-Dreamin-Retro-Modern-ETC

Web design by Marbeth Schon

A big thank you to:
Sam Kaufman Gallery
(323) 857-1965
http://samkaufmangallery.1stdibs.com/

and
Andrew M. Reid
 Amarcord Fine Decorative Arts (415) 328-6541
 www.amarcordfda.com

Your comments are invited. 
 
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