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Inside the Collection: June Schwarcz

June Schwarcz (1981-2015) was an innovative enamelist of the 20th century. With a career spanning 60 years, she continually broke ground in a male-dominated field and helped pioneer a new vision for enameling and for craft.

June Theresa Schwarcz (née Morris) was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1918. She studied industrial design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1939 to 1941, and then worked as a designer for window displays, greeting cards, and packaging for cosmetics and toy companies in New York. Schwarcz learned to enamel in the mid-1950s and quickly mastered a wide variety of techniques. In the 1960s and 1970s, she began experimenting with different materials and breaking away from established enamel traditions, especially with her use of electroplating.

Schwarcz passed away in Sausalito, CA, in 2015. A retrospective of her work, June Schwarcz: Invention and Variation, was recently on display at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. This exhibition was the first retrospective of Schwarcz’s work in fifteen years and includes nearly sixty artworks, several of which have never been publicly displayed. The catalog of this exhibition is currently in our library collection if you want to learn more.

In the Metal Museum’s permanent collection, we currently have two pieces by June Schwarcz. The first was a bequest by the artist that she loaned to the Museum in 2012 but was officially donated by her children Kim and Carl Schwarcz after her death. This piece, Vessel #1096 (2016.5.1), was made in 1992. It is an electroplated copper foil vessel with six triangular cutouts, each tipped with a peak of maroon enamel. The exterior of this vessel is rough with a dark patina, and its enameled interior fades from metallic orange at the rim of the vessel to gold on the bottom. If you look closely at the video below, you can see this piece at 8:53-8:55.

The second vessel in our collection was recently donated by metalsmith Mary Lee Hu. Hu traded Schwarcz for this piece, Vessel #827, in the early 1980’s in exchange for her own Choker #28. This vessel (2017.12.17) was made in 1981 from electroplated copper foil and blue-green enamel. Schwarcz used the plique-à- jour technique on the enameled interior, which is a process that does not involve a metal backing and allows light to shine through the thin enamel to create a stained-glass effect on the vessel’s exterior.

Both pieces are on view in our Visible Storage and New Acquisitions Galleries. Visit the museum to check them out in person.

Watch this video to learn more about Schwarcz’s creative processes and how textiles influenced her work.


UPDATE (02/05/2020): In 2018, the Metal Museum acquired a cuff bracelet made by Schwarcz for fellow enamelist Sarah Perkins. Click here to learn more about this piece.

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