San Diego's Craft Revolution

Review by Patrick Kapty










Jackson Woolley
Bonus (1967)
Polyester resin, paint, wood 19 1/2 x 40 x 4 in Courtney Cutter and Marc Sagal Collection.
Photograph by Steve Oliver © Mingei International Museum

For anyone that enjoys post-war American craft, especially jewelry and enamels, you can't miss the "San Diego's Craft Revolution" exhibition on right now at the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park at San Diego.  Stunning examples of studio modernist jewelry by Ruth and Svetozar Radakovitch, Jackson and Ellamarie Woolley, James Parker, Jack Boyd, Barney Reid, and Arline Fisch, among others, are a major portion of the exhibit and make it well worth the journey there for anyone at all interested in this esoteric genre. From the huge enamel and metal mobile at the start of the exhibit to the gargantuan enamel on metal wall covering by the Woolleys at the end, this exhibit had me gasping in awe and wonderment, and left me feeling dazed and with a compulsive lust for San Diego craft!

The book that accompanies the exhibition can be perused online at the Mingei website, and is well worth the purchase price. Packed full of biographical details and rare previously unreleased photographs of the artists and artworks many of which are being shown for the first time in this exhibit.

The San Diego's Craft Revolution exhibition is just one of many concurrent exhibitions occurring in California this winter/spring under the umbrella of the Getty and titled "Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980" though it includes art and artists from all over the state.

Jackson Woolley

Jackson Woolley and his wife, Ellamarie, were among the first to develop the art of modern enameling on the West Coast, quickly becoming San Diego’s most celebrated midcentury modern artist couple. They led by example, teaching themselves as they participated in architectural projects for the city. Jackson, in particular, felt strongly about modern design, art in public spaces, and the built environment. He often picked up new ideas while bicycling along the Tenth Avenue Terminal docks, not far from their house in Point Loma. He built constructions of entirely new materials, wood, fiberglass, and polyester resin that echoed the “shapes of shipping, flat flanges and rivet patterns of the waterfront.” In 1969 one of these large wall constructions, Bonus, was included in Objects: USA (and the eponymous book), a traveling exhibition of craft from the collection of the S. C. Johnson Company, which debuted at the Smithsonian Institution.

Jackson and Ellamarie Woolley










Woolley Wall Installation
 Reflective Sun

Ellamarie Woolley

Born in San Diego, Ellamarie Woolley studied art at San Diego State College. She painted two murals on the campus, Packing Oranges and Sailors Going to Hell, in 1936 as part of a group commissioned with WPA funds. She and her husband, Jackson Woolley, were among the first to develop the art of modern enameling on the West Coast. Woolley joined the Allied Craftsmen of San Diego in 1949 and was active in the group until her death in 1976. Her work was exhibited in major exhibitions including Objects: USA, the California Design series held at the Pasadena Art Museum, and Craftsmanship in a Changing World at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York. Over time, her work evolved from figurative designs and abstractions on small copper plates to large-scale architectural murals that exploited the support medium, copper, as sculptural material in its own right. In the late 1960s, Woolley produced reductive abstract compositions that left “no place to hide” and responded to the shaped canvas, pure color, and hard-edge quality of West Coast painters.

Ellamarie Wooley
Weather Report #522 (ca. 1950s)
Metal, enamel, 10 1/4 x 13 1/4 x 1 in
Mingei International Museum, Gift of Kirk Butler Mingei International Museum © 2011


Jack Hopkins

Jack Hopkins (1920 –2006) was part of a California-based design movement in the late 60s that introduced more sculptural and free-flowing elements into furniture design. He grew up in Bakersfield, California, and as a young boy learned to make toys in his father’s wood shop, the Sierra Furniture Manufacturing. Co. After WWII, Hopkins attended the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he studied painting and drawing. After graduating in 1950, Hopkins earned his MFA from the Claremont Colleges, and in 1960 he began teaching in the art department at San Diego State University, where he remained an influential teacher until his retirement in 1991.

Hopkins started out as a painter, then experimented with jewelry and ceramics. He began working in wood around 1965, and completed his first furniture piece, a combination chair and coffee table, in 1966. He continued to produce furniture pieces, all of which were one of a kind, with the exception of the Edition chair, first created in 1969. He usually worked with hardwoods such as black walnut, cherry, Honduras mahogany, maple, rosewood, and teak. He also used Finnish birch plywood and veneers, and occasionally oak. Hopkins often combined various woods into a single piece so the different grains created a dynamic color pattern and form.

Hopkins is included in a survey of 26 furniture makers, designers, and decorators called "Modern Americana: Studio Furniture from High Craft to High Glam" (Rizzoli, 2008). In a blurb about the book, Merrill writes that although some members of the studio furniture movement are well known, such as George Nakashima and Paul Evans, others (like Hopkins) remain obscure, despite their pioneering contributions.

"This is the only undocumented period left in American furniture," said Merrill. "You could graduate from any design school in the country and you might not know who the biggest furniture designers were 20 years ago. They've just vanished."


Jack R. Hopkins
Womb Room sculptural seating environment, ca. 1970
wood, leather, metal, 6 x 15 x 6 ft.
Courtesy of Hopkins Family.

Jack Boyd

Jack Boyd became well known in San Diego for his jewelry and sculpture. With no formal art training, Boyd had an early gift for creating compelling shapes in metal, and “became a professional silver and goldsmith at age seventeen.” He was billed as “one of San Diego’s youngest silversmiths,” and he joined the Allied Craftsmen in his early twenties. He explored such techniques and materials as enamel on copper, wood, ceramics, welded steel, and—in the case of much of his distinctive jewelry—welded bronze.













Jack Boyd
Giraffe (ca. 1965)
Welded Steel 13 x 7 x 26 in
Private Collection.
Photograph by Steve Oliver © Mingei International Museum

Kay Whitcomb

Kay Whitcomb became one of the first to teach enameling in San Diego when she introduced classes in the medium in 1956 at the Art Center in La Jolla. Her distinctive images and techniques for surfacing were often combined with words, phrases, and proverbs. This panel belonged to the late Sim Bruce Richards, AIA, and his wife, Janet Richards.

Kay Whitcomb
Upon Whose Bosom Snow as Lain (1983)
Enamel on steel 12 1/2 x 14 x 2 in
Janet Richards Collection.
Photograph by Steve Oliver © Mingei International Museum

A pair of eye-popping enamel-on-steel doors, made during Kay Whitcomb’s residency at Crahait, was exhibited in 1971 at California Design 11. Each door was a single nine-and-a-half-feet-high sheet of steel. Photographer Richard Gross took them out into the desert. This image for the exhibition catalog presents Whitcomb’s double doors standing alone in the dunes like a colorful monolith.


Kay Whitcomb
Doors (ca. 1970)
Enamel on steel 9 1/2 x 5 1/4 ft
Reform Gallery Collection.
Photograph by Richard Gross. California Design 11, 1971. California Design Archive, Oakland Museum of California © Mingei International Museum. Photograph provided by California Design Archive, Oakland Museum of California


Barney Reid

Although talented in graphic design, printmaking, sculpture, and ceramics, Barney Reid was known for his enamel work and jewelry. In the 1950s Reid was one of the most nationally active of the early Allied Craftsmen, exhibiting enamels and enameled jewelry at the Walker Art Center, Oakland Museum, Wichita Art Association, Brooklyn Museum, and Art Institute of Chicago. He exhibited in several shows at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, including Enamels in 1959. Reid developed his own process for enameling that required as many as twelve to fifteen firings, and he had only a handful of enamels available at any given time. Next to the Woolleys, Reid was the best-known enamel artist in San Diego during the mid-1950s.

Barney Reid
Wall Plaque
Enamel on copper set in a handmade mahogany frame 27 3/4 x 7 1/2 x 7/8 in
Private Collection.
Photograph by Steve Oliver © Mingei International Museum

Mona Trunkfield

Mona Trunkfield studied at San Diego State College in the late 1950s with painter Jean Swiggett and sculptor/woodworker John Dirks. She received a BA in art education and taught arts and crafts in Chula Vista, California, at the junior high and high school levels. One of Trunkfield's former students urged her to enroll in the jewelry classes offered at State by metalsmith Arline Fisch. Subsequently, Trunkfield completed an MA with Fisch in jewelry and metalsmithing. Trunkfield went on to study Danish goldsmithing in Copenhagen, and has exhibited at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, the Minnesota Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York. Trunkfield also taught at San Diego State University and at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California.













Mona Trunkfield
Body Ornament (1971)
Plexiglas, silver 39 x 9 1/2 x 4 in
Mingei International Museum, Gift of Dave Hampton.
 Photograph by Chip Morton Mingei International Museum © 2011

Svetozar Radakovich, Arline Fisch

Although Svetozar “Toza” and Ruth Radakovich made sculpture (Toza painted as well until the mid-1960s), their reputation in the 1950s came from their spectacular jewelry, which won national acclaim. They studied jewelry techniques in Denmark and France before finally moving to New York in 1955. Over the next four years, the Radakoviches studied metalworking at the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology. They also taught, exhibited and rapidly gained national recognition for their jewelry. A few years later, after moving to their hilltop in Encinitas, the ample space and new environment encouraged new directions in their work.

Besides her teaching and service to the field, Arline Fisch was “very religious” about entering her own work in exhibitions and competitions as a way to challenge herself and promote her work. Fisch set an example that encouraged her students to do the same, and her efforts drew attention to San Diego. People could see the high caliber of metalwork being done at San Diego State, and the evolution of Fisch’s jewelry was documented in major exhibition catalogs of the 1960s and 1970s. Fisch had spent a year in Denmark on a Fulbright grant in 1956. By that time, she felt strongly about working with metal, and “Denmark and Sweden were where silver was happening in the fifties.”

Svetozar Radakovich
Bracelet for Jean; Feathers Bracelet (1980; 1973)
Sterling silver, gold, titanium, ebony and ivory; Sterling silver, leather, feathers 5 1/8 x 3 1/8 x 2 3/8 in; 6 x 3 in
Jean Radakovich Collection; Collection of the artist


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Review by Patrick Kapty, “Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern” (760) 671-4879 

...with excerpts from The Mingei International Museum press release

Photographs courtesy of The Mingei International Museum

Web Design by Marbeth Schon



© copyright MODERN SILVER magazine, 2012