Filled with timeless art and objects, Sausalito enamel artist June Schwarcz’s home is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.
The first time I stood at the door of enamel artist June Schwarcz’s home, I had a very limited understanding of what enamel art actually was. Her metal vessels at the de Young Museum seemed to transcend what I knew of the medium, and, frankly, they knocked my preconceptions on their ear. I was there to photograph her home, and I would come to learn that the birth of her passion for enamel and her life in this hillside Sausalito home are inextricably tied. They both began the same year—1954. While her husband, Leroy, searched for their new home, June and her two small children made a trip to Denver, her hometown. During their visit, a friend taught June the basics of enameling. So, essentially, her entire life as an enamel artist has occurred within these walls, and being here helped me understand June and her work in a much deeper way.
“There is always a bit of mystery as to what I am going to get”
Although she studied industrial design early on at Pratt Institute, that ignition point in 1954 set June on her life’s path. In layman’s terms, enameling is a process of fusing glass onto metal, but June’s work is more complex than that. It begins with a soft copper mesh material, which she electroplates into the solid vessels that she then enamels. Now 95, with her pieces in numerous museums, June is considered one of the most important enamel artists of the 20th century. And even after 60 years, her work is a process that still fills her with wonder. “There is always a bit of mystery as to what I am going to get,” she says. June refers to her work ethic as a “compulsion,” and it is clear that she means that in the best possible way. “I just can’t think of anything I would rather be doing,” she tells me. Even now, she continues to work and create every day in her home studio.
Above her studio is the home she has lived in for the past 60 years. The living room is a testament to her curatorial eye for art and objects, and it was here that I learned of June’s expansive, democratic taste. To her eye, beauty is beauty—there is no hierarchy to where you find it. So artwork by Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn and Ellsworth Kelly are mixed with sculptural pieces by June’s friends and contemporaries like Kay Sekimachi, Stephen De Staebler and Dominic Di Mare. Interspersed are everyday objects and artifacts from various cultures—Native American, African and Japanese, to name a few. The furniture in the room is simple and comfortable, with clean lines. A set of Marcel Breuer Wassily chairs (which June is pretty sure are copies) and a low-slung oak sofa that came from a kit in the 1960s anchor her collections in a quiet, humble way. And yet the one thing that is not in this main room is any of June’s own pieces. Those are all tucked into a room off the hallway. As I admire shelf after shelf, June and I talk about inspiration. The two pieces she is currently engaged with draw from the interiors of French Cistercian abbeys and a piece of Styrofoam packing material that came in a parcel she received recently in the mail—diverse subjects, to say the least. “I get ideas easily. It could even be the corner of something,” she explains. “Inspiration is just everywhere.”
Written and Photographed by Leslie Williamson.