Written by Harold Nelson, provided courtesy of the Enamel Arts Foundation
Harold B. “Bill” Helwig (1938–2012), a masterful artist and widely respected educator, passed away in Newport, Kentucky on July 12, 2012. Best known for his extraordinarily well-crafted enamels done using a painterly Limoges technique, Helwig was a leader in the late 20th-century enameling field.
Bill Helwig’s enamels are enormously inventive, both formally and technically. While he typically used round, plate-like forms in his early work, around 1972 Helwig began to pierce, cut, open, and eventually give sculptural shape to his copper plates, creating objects of extraordinary beauty, elegance, and power. Similarly, through near-obsessive exploration, he discovered several nearly-lost enameling and glazing techniques and reintroduced them to the contemporary enamels field.
Bill Helwig enthusiastically shared what he learned with his students through classes, workshops, lectures, and demonstrations. In 1989 Beverly Semmes described Helwig’s generosity in an article in Metalsmith. She wrote, “There are no sacred cows in Helwig’s enamel lexicon. He’s an enthusiastic, prolific risk-taker in the enamel studio, and his expertise is unmatched. He encourages students to learn the logic of the process, rather than the process itself. Unencumbered by an academic’s strictures, he reinvents the artform daily, both technically and esthetically.”
In 1982, he served as cofounder and editor of Glass on Metal. Helwig served on the board of the Enamelist Society, and received the Society’s prestigious Creative Arts Award. He also served on numerous Fair Committees for the American Craft Council, chairing the Committee in 1970.
The subject of numerous one-person exhibitions throughout the course of his life, Helwig was most recently featured in Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930 – 1980, a publication which accompanied an exhibition of the same name at the Long Beach Museum of Art in California (2007). Helwig’s work is in numerous private collections across the country. He is also represented in the collections of the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Enamel Arts Foundation in Los Angeles.
In 1977 Helwig became head of the Vitrearc division at Carpenter’s Ceramic Coating Company in Newport, Kentucky (which later became Thompson Enamels). In his role at Thompson, Bill Helwig became an invaluable resource to artists, educators, and the industry, alike on the properties and possibilities of the enameling medium.
Written by Baunnie Sea and Jennifer Cross Gans
merry renk was born in New Jersey in 1921. While in high school she attended Fine Art classes at the School of Industrial Arts in Trenton, NJ. She attended the Institute of Design the American Bauhaus, Chicago from 1946-47, and left after completing the foundation course to open 750 Studio, a contemporary arts and crafts gallery with fellow classmates Mary Jo Slick and Olive Oliver. The gallery was one of the first of its kind and well-received by the press, showing the work of well-known artists such as Henry Miller, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Harry Callahan, and Margaret De Patta.
merry spent a year learning enameling techniques through trial and error. She sold the gallery and moved to San Francisco, where she connected with local metalsmiths such as Peter Macchiarini and Margaret De Patta. In 1951 De Patta invited her to attend the first meeting of the Metal Arts Guild (MAG). merry became a founder of MAG as well as its President in 1954. She remained an active Lifetime member through her 90th year.
During the 1960s, merry lost the sight in her right eye and switched to constructing large sculptures of iron, bronze, copper and brass, using the same interlocking ideas she’d used in jewelry. In the spring of 1981, the California Crafts Museum hosted, “merry renk, Jeweler: A Visual Biography and Retrospective, 1947-1981”. After that, she resumed her jewelry production until 1983.
The San Francisco Art Commission presented merry an Award of Honor for her “extraordinary contributions to the Bay Area community,” and she was also named an American Craft Council Fellow. Her oral history is in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.
merry’s work is in collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Arts & Design, e Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Oakland Museum of Fine Arts, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as in MAG’s Permanent Collection.
Obituary written by Richard Mawdsley
It is with great sadness we report the death of friend Garret DeRuiter, former SNAG board member and the first Editor of the SNAG Newsletter, after a three-year battle with bladder cancer. He fought this battle with strength, determination, and with the quirky, good-natured sense of humor that those of us who had the privilege to call him friend so admired. He died peacefully on the morning of May 1, 2012.
Garret was born in Evergreen Park, Illinois in 1940. He got his BA in design from Southern Illinois University in 1963, and was in Brent Kington’s second MFA class, graduating in 1965. He joined the faculty at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston where he taught from 1965 until his retirement in 2000.
I first got to know him at the blacksmithing workshop held at Southern Illinois University’s Little Grassy Lake summer camp in 1970. I don’t remember us introducing ourselves; we just started sharing a forge, getting filthy from the coal and the sweat. I immediately enjoyed his company. He was a generous, easy going, and his positive outlook was infectious.
At the business meeting at the end of the Tucson conference in 1980, the new SNAG Newsletter was presented to the membership for the first time. When Garret was introduced to the audience as the editor, he was fast asleep. The room was fairly large and my memory tells me it was well-populated. I don’t remember what prompted him to stir, but the entire crowd watched him sputter back to consciousness, and no one laughed more than he did. Under his leadership the newsletter became one of the important milestones that helped SNAG evolve into a more populist, relevant organization.
An accomplished artist, Garret, was an active metalsmith and exhibited extensively for many years. Garret is survived by his wife Marilyn, three daughters, and six grandchildren. One of his daughters, Margaret, followed in his footsteps. She was one of my students, graduated from SIU-C with a BFA in metals, and is an accomplished metalsmith.
William Frederick passed away on May 11, 2012. In 1946, Frederick began pursuing his BFA and MFA degrees in Art from The School of Art Institute of Chicago, where he subsequently taught for six years. He was a member of the Arts Club of Chicago and a member of Society of American Silversmiths. Among his many diverse projects as a silversmith are some 400 or more chalices that he created, never repeating a design. Consistent and distinctive in his designs is the use of the hammered surface; Frederick preferred the textured instead of the smooth, polished surface. His long career was sustained by word of mouth and the reception of many awards and articles in trade publications. Notable was the support afforded by his life partner of more than fifty years, the noted artist Ralph Arnold, who preceded him in death. Frederick’s creative importance is recognized by many clients, collectors, colleagues, and friends. His work is in several museums including the Art Institute of Chicago.
Grant Sarver passed away on January 2, 2012 due to an aortic aneurism. He was a Founding Member of the NorthWest Blacksmith Association, past NWBA Board Member, and a very gracious supporter and contributor to their organization and the world of blacksmithing. He was a unique fire that burnt brightly amongst our forges and will be very much missed.