Enamel Art Now
Can anybody explain to me why great modernist enamel work is sohard to find and is also so hard to sell? I understand the medium may be thought of as a craft rather than an art form, and that the market is strewn with work of hobby quality, from bad abstract color blobs to cutesy animal figures on bowls, plates, etc. But in the hands of masterful craftsmen and designers, an enamel bowl or plaque can become a vivid and vibrant artwork, rich and deep in color saturation, and far more durable than a painting.
In America, in the mid-century, the list of artists working in enamel includes: Kenneth Bates, Edward Winter, Karl Drerup, Doris Hall, Ruth Raemisch, Ellemarie and Jackson Wooley, Virgil Cantini, Kay Whitcomb, Jade Snow Wong, and Jean Ames. All are featured in a book published in 2006, titled “Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980.” The book is a catalog of an exhibition held initially at the Long Beach Museum of Art, and it makes a compelling case for the significance of the enamel arts. Sampled here are several images from this book, along with a few images drawn from gallery websites, including a footed Cantini bowl from my own collection.
So, again: Why is modernist enamel work undervalued in the market compared to paintings, sculpture, and even pottery and glass? Shouldn’t more great pieces be turning up and selling for higher prices? Is this just my impression? I’d like to hear from dealers and collectors—any thoughts?
Images from top: Kenneth Bates, "My trip to Pittsburgh," 1945; Doris Hall, "Where from My Love," 1957; Virgil Cantini. "For the Kimballs," 1965; Ellemarie and Jackson Wooley, c. 1950’s; Edward Winter, "Genisus (Sun and Earth)," 1964; Jade Snow Wong, bowl, 1949; Ruth Raemisch, box with plaque c. 1950’s