June Schwarcz did not set out to become a legend. In fact, the enamel artist first encountered the medium for which she would become famous on a lark. She was introduced to it by some friends who were taking enameling classes at the Denver Art Museum in 1954.
Fascinated by the complexities of enameling, a process in which glass fuses to metal when fired at high temperatures, Schwarcz began experimenting and was soon breaking new ground by enameling electroplated gold, silver and copper forms. Since then her work has garnered enough attention for the California State Assembly to pass an official resolution recognizing Schwarcz as a Living Treasure of California.
Over the decades that she has been creating enamel pieces, Schwarcz’s bowls and abstract vessels have come to be synonymous with the medium itself. Working from her Sausalito home studio, Schwarcz begins her process with a three dimensional maquette made out of paper. Next, she builds the vessel using thin copper sheets or metal mesh. She then has the form electroplated to render it sturdy enough to undergo the enameling process. Finally, she carefully applies enamel.
“I’m very drawn to subtle colorations and the quality of light, maybe because I live with a lot of fog — or maybe I like light behind a little bit of obscurity. Lots of people wish I’d do brighter, stronger things, but by now I figure, ‘I’m old and I can do what I want,'” she tells Spark with her characteristic chutzpah.
In January 2007, June Schwarcz, along with artists Bill Helwig and Bill Harper, was selected to exhibit at the Long Beach Museum in the first major retrospective of American enamel art held in the United States since 1959. Her work is held in the permanent collections of premier art institutions, including the de Young Museum, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and many others.
Cai, Henderson and Schwarcz
Meet a dancer fusing traditions, a musician who paints, and a legend working with enamel.