Enamel Arts Foundation donates 938 enamels to four museums

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Enamel Arts Foundation donates 938 enamels to four museums
Woolley Reclining Figure.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Enamel Arts Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, has donated 938 modern and contemporary enamels to four American art museums. The museums are the Yale University Art Gallery (141 enamels), Philadelphia Museum of Art (132 enamels), Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (458 enamels), and the Crocker Art Museum (207 enamels). According to spokesperson for the Foundation Harold B. “Hal” Nelson, who, along with his partner Bernard N. Jazzar, created the collection-based organization in 2007, each of the four institutions was given a representative selection of American enamels, made between 1920 and the present. The Foundation worked closely with curators at the museums to determine priorities and select work that will enrich their collection while complementing current holdings in other areas of contemporary decorative arts, craft, and design. Nelson noted that the gifts are intended to increase public awareness and appreciation of enamel, a field of contemporary art that, the Foundation believes, is worthy of greater visibility. The enamels, all from the Foundation’s 2,000-piece collection, range in size from small, finely crafted jewelry, decorative art, and sculpture to large, wall-mounted plaques and panels. Nelson added “We hope that our donation will help each museum become a focal point for the enamels field, a center for the display, study, and appreciation of modern and contemporary enamels and that through these institutional gifts more people will become aware of the power, beauty, and versatility of this remarkable medium.”


Enamel, glass fused to metal through a high temperature firing process, is an art form with a long and storied history. With its foundations in venerable craft traditions in both Asia and the West, enameling was revitalized in the mid 20th century by artists interested in exploring its rich expressive potential. While many museums in this country have earlier forms of enamel in their collections, few have focused on modern and contemporary enameling. The Enamel Arts Foundation anticipates that this gift will help the four institutions establish a central role for enameling within the body of their collections.

The Enamel Arts Foundation Collection

The Enamel Arts Foundation collection, comprising more than 2,000 artworks prior to the donation, is widely considered to be the largest and most significant collection of modern and contemporary American enamels in the United States. Spanning the period 1920 to the present, it is particularly strong in the following areas: work by Cleveland-based artists of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s; work by German and Austrian émigrés who came to this country in the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution; postwar enameling with a particular focus on work by California-based artists; work produced by artists who were part of the “craft renaissance” of the late 20th century; work by women; work by artists reflecting diverse cultural perspectives; and work by young and emerging leaders in the contemporary enamels and jewelry fields.

Reflecting the Foundation’s respect for the full breadth of each artist’s achievement, the collection includes multiple examples particularly for those artists considered seminal leaders in the enamels field or otherwise worthy of interest. In some cases, an artist is represented by 2 or 3 pieces and in other cases, 20 to 30. Among the enamelists with in-depth representation are Kenneth Bates, Karl Drerup, Ruth Raemisch, Harold Tishler, Mildred Watkins, and Edward Winter; Cleveland-based artists Fern Cole, Doris Hall, Mary Ellen McDermott, James Peck, and John Puskas; California-based enamelists Arthur and Jean Ames, Annemarie Davidson, Win Ng, Phyllis Wallen, Jade Snow Wong, and Ellamarie and Jackson Woolley; 20th-century innovators Fred Ball, William Harper, Harold B. Helwig, Paul Hultberg, June Schwarcz, and Oppi Untracht; contemporary leaders Jamie Bennett, Harlan Butt, Jessica Calderwood, Gretchen Goss, Jan Harrell, Sarah Perkins, and Barbara Seidenath ; emerging voices Kat Cole, Andrew Kuebeck, Zachery Lechtenberg, Sharon Massey, Rachel Shimpock, and numerous others. To underscore the geographically widespread interest in the field and to honor its richly diverse history, the Foundation’s collection also has sizable holdings of the following artists who, although working out of the “mainstream,” produced highly accomplished enamels: Harold Balazs (WA), Virgil Cantini (PA), Herman Casagranda (CO), Mary Kretsinger (KS), Richard Loving (IL), Dorothy Sturm (TN), Joseph Trippetti (NH), Helen Trivigno (LA), and many others. Together, these artists represent a wide variety of approaches to the medium as well as diverse cultural and personal perspectives.

Of the approximately 2,000 works in the collection, 1,160 by 155 artists are currently documented on the Foundation’s website www.enamelarts.org. In most cases, entries on the website include biographical information about the artist and capsule discussions of their work. Together with its 2015 publication Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present the website affords the best opportunity to become acquainted with the full range and depth of the Foundation’s holdings.

Highlights of the Donation

Among the highlights of the donation are Reclining Figure by Jackson Woolley (1910 – 1992), one of the leading figures in postwar American enameling, given to the Yale University Art Gallery; Philomène, a masterful example of the cloisonné technique used by Aurélie Guillaume (born 1990) to create a whimsical spin on contemporary jewelry, given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Untitled, a monumental collaged composition by Fred Uhl Ball (1945 – 1985), one of the most experimental enamelists to explore the medium’s rich artistic potential, given to the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts; and Red Bowl by Jade Snow Wong (1922 – 2006), a ceramist, enamelist, and pioneer in San Francisco’s Chinese American cultural community, given to the Crocker Art Museum.

Museum Response to the Gift

Discussing the Foundation’s gift of 141 enamels to Yale, Patricia E. Kane, The Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts, stated: “This extraordinary gift from the Enamel Arts Foundation has transformed this area of the collections at Yale. Our modest holdings in 20th and 21st century enamels have been enriched so that this medium can be better represented in our permanent galleries with ample reserves for teaching, research, and special exhibitions.” Her colleague John Stuart Gordon, Benjamin Attmore Hewitt Curator of American Decorative Arts, added: “This exciting gift from the Enamel Arts Foundation greatly enriches the renowned jewelry and metalwork collections at Yale. The artists included in the gift represent a diversity of viewpoints, training, and approaches that affirm the vibrancy of the enamel field. The artists span generations, including acknowledged leaders like Kenneth Francis Bates and Sarah Perkins, emerging voices such as Timothy Veske-McMahon, and figures like Ruth Raemisch who are less well known but deserve to be household names.” Regarding the donation of 458 enamels, the largest of the gifts, to the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, Executive Director Dr. Victoria Ramirez stated, “This is a transformational gift to the museum that will greatly enhance our permanent collection of contemporary craft. Through the generosity of the Enamel Arts Foundation, the AMFA will be the nation’s principal repository for modern and contemporary American enamel. We look forward to showcasing these works in the galleries of our new museum and to serving as a resource to artists and scholars.”

Phase II
Nelson added: “Now that we’ve completed this initial phase, we’re about to embark on a second round of donations. In Phase II of our initiative, we intend to give smaller groups of work to ten or twelve other museums. These gifts will be highly strategic and based on each museum’s strengths and collecting priorities. Our goal is to share the finest examples of American enameling with as many museums as possible. Partnerships with artists and with the museums that celebrate their work have been critical to our success and we feel certain that it is through such partnerships that our Foundation’s mission and its long-term goals will be fully realized.”

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