June Schwarcz: Unconventional Enamels

  June Schwarcz: Unconventional Enamels

Harvey Milk Terminal 1

Departures Level 2, Gallery 1E
Jul 20, 2023 - May 05, 2024

June Schwarcz: Unconventional Enamels 

June Schwarcz (1918–2015) made unconventional enameled art that pushed the boundaries of her craft for more than sixty years. Inspired by nature, fashion, and abstract, African, and Asian art, Schwarcz developed unique metalworking techniques, always experimenting and embracing complex technical challenges. She initially worked with copper panels and spun-copper bowls, infusing them with her own interpretation of traditional enameling. During the 1960s, Schwarcz pioneered electroforming, an innovative method that involved electroplating pieces made from thin copper foil. Schwarcz focused on sculptural vessels and when asked about her abstract forms, she explained, “they simply don’t hold water.”

June Schwarcz working in her studio  1957 Lynn G. Fayman (1904–68) La Jolla, California Courtesy of the Enamel Arts Foundation R2023.0602.001Schwarcz was not trained in metalworking or enameling; rather, she studied industrial design at Pratt Institute. She was introduced to enamels in 1954 through a group of friends, one of whom had studied with Kenneth Bates, author of Enameling: Principles and Practice. Schwarcz moved to Sausalito, California, that year and began working in basse-taille, layering enamels over copper items with etched, chased, or engraved designs. After just a few months, the de Young Museum in San Francisco presented her first major exhibition, a two-person show with textile artist Trude Guermonprez (1910–76). Two years later, one of Schwarcz’s works was included in Craftsmanship in a Changing World, the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York.

In the early 1960s, Schwarcz’s husband Leroy, a mechanical engineer, constructed an electroplating tank so she could plate raised designs to fill with champlevé and cloisonné enamels. Schwarcz was also fascinated by textiles, and she maintained lifelong friendships with Bay Area fiber artists Lillian Elliott (1930–94) and Kay Sekimachi (b. 1926). Based on her experiments with electroplating and her knowledge of textiles, Schwarcz developed a remarkable method for electroforming vessels. After finalizing a pattern in paper, she crafted the shape from thin copper foil by cutting, folding, gathering, and stitching with copper wire—almost treating the material like fabric. Schwarcz then submerged the form in her electroplating tank, which deposited a layer of metal that strengthened the vessel. In later years, Schwarcz substituted copper screen for foil, drawn to the screen for its lighter weight and fabric-like qualities.Abstract (#339)  1959 June Schwarcz (1918–2015) copper, enamel, marble Collection of Forrest L. Merrill FLM3265			 L2023.0601.045

Electroforming was unpredictable and coated her pieces with dramatic surface detail, accentuating rims and edges with encrusted formations. Schwarcz incorporated a variety of finishes into her vessel forms, both inside and out. She layered vivid, multicolored enamels in multiple kiln firings, at times sandblasting the exterior to contrast with the interior. Schwarcz employed plique-à-jour, French for “letting in light,” by laying transparent enamels over pierced windows. Chemical patinas and iron plating lent a raw look to some of her pieces; gold and silver plating made others shine like jewelry. When not finishing the exterior, she welcomed the oxidation that heat from the kiln left on bare copper plating. This exhibition presents a retrospective of Schwarcz’s enameled art from the extensive collection of Forrest L. Merrill.

A very special thank you to Forrest L. Merrill for making this exhibition possible.

[image, top]
June Schwarcz working in her studio  1957
Lynn G. Fayman (1904–68)
La Jolla, California
Courtesy of the Enamel Arts Foundation

[image, bottom]
Abstract (#339)  1959
June Schwarcz (1918–2015)
copper, enamel, marble
Collection of Forrest L. Merrill


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