June 10, 1918 - August 2, 2015
June Schwarcz (97) who died at her home in Sausalito, California on Sunday, August 2nd, was among the most innovative and highly respected artists working in the late 20th-century enamels field. Best known for her electroformed metal sculpture, embellished with rich enamel color, she produced an extensive body of work which, while referring to time-honored vessel making traditions, defy convention because, as she wryly noted, "They simply don't hold water."
Recognized early on for her innovative approach to the medium, she was included in 1956 in Craftsmanship in a Changing World, the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York (now the Museum of Arts and Design); that museum's seminal 1959 exhibition Enamels; and the watershed traveling exhibition Objects: U.S.A. in 1969. She was designated a California Living Treasure in 1985. She was a founding member of the Northern California Enamels Guild, a member of the Enamelist Society where in 1991 she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2009 she was given the Masters of the Medium Award by the James Renwick Alliance of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Born in Denver in 1918, June Theresa Morris studied industrial design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1939 to 1941. After working in the New York fashion and design industries for several years, she married Leroy Schwarcz, a mechanical engineer, in 1943. She moved several times with her husband and two children (Carl and Kim) before settling in Sausalito, California in 1954.
While visiting her family in Denver in 1953, Schwarcz was introduced to enameling and was immediately drawn to the medium's brilliant color and rich, expressive potential. For more than sixty years she created inventive forms in glass and metal that set new standards for the field while she served as mentor to generations of young and emerging artists.
In many of her earliest pieces, Schwarcz utilized the traditional basse-taille enameling technique, cutting and etching into the surface of copper plaques, plates and bowls to create complex, abstract compositions that were visible through layer upon layer of transparent enamel. When asked why she chose this technique, Schwarcz stated, "I felt there were characteristics of enamel one could use that were not available in any other medium. I didn't want to do what everyone else had done."
Around 1962, she began to experiment with an electroforming process she had learned through a colleague of her husband's at Stanford University. She used this process to produce unique forms in copper that she subsequently enameled. In this work, the rough quality of the electroformed metal offers a potent contrast to the brilliant color and smooth glassy surface of the enamel. This dialog between the raw and refined was fundamental to Schwarcz's work throughout her career.
Her protean imagination, which found inspiration in all manner of artistic practice from contemporary abstraction to Asian textile design, was unbounded as she provided a model of enduring creativity to all those drawn to the contemporary enamels field. Constantly exploring new forms and techniques, she said, "I do not believe the visual possibilities of enamel have begun to be exploited."
Curator and co-founder of the Enamel Arts Foundation in Los Angeles, Bernard Jazzar said, "June was unparalleled in her ability to invent new forms in glass and metal. Never resting on her laurels, even at a point in life when she might very well have done that, June was on a constant quest to find new solutions and ever-inventive approaches to this venerable medium."
In more recent years Schwarcz was featured in a 1998 retrospective exhibition Forty Years/Forty Pieces at the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum; in 2007 in Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930 - 1980 at the Long Beach Museum of Art; and in 2009 Transformed by Fire: June Schwarcz Enameled Vessels at the Mingei Museum, San Diego.
Examples of her work are in the collections of numerous institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and many others.
She is survived by her son Carl, daughter-in-law Molly Clark, her daughter Kim, and grandson Adam. Her family and friends will remember June as the most loving and kind parent or friend one could have.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations in June's memory be made to the ACLU or to the Enamel Arts Foundation. As per her request, there will be no memorial services although condolences may be sent to Kim Schwarcz, 22 Seawolf Passage, Corte Madera, CA 94925