“The art of enameling has held great fascination for my art career. Developing designs around thoughts, proverbs, messages, not obvious at first, creating a color scheme that can run the spectrum, incorporating a focal point, and coping with the technical hazards of this medium – Always presenting many challenges! The metal, the enamels, the firing, the expansion, the contractions, etc…”
The following is an excerpt from the Enamelist Society Achievement Awards written about Kay Whitcomb, former President of the Sand Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild 1968-69:
“In 1966 Kay Whitcomb celebrated 50 years as an enamellist. To mark the anniversary, she produced a calendar showing some of her work, giving a brief biography, and including information on the stages of her development. Her record is impressive. Kay Whitcomb has been influential with her work on both East and West coasts as well as abroad.
Whitcomb studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Cambridge School of Art. After her time in the US Marine Corps during World War II she apprenticed to Doris Hall in Cleveland. Finishing her formal studies and opening her first studio in Winchester, MA, in 1948 did not mean the end of her research into the art of enameling: her experimenting and developing of technique had continued through the years and includes time in Sweden and Belgium.
In the mid 1950’s Whitcomb moved to Southern California where she strengthened her design style, a style greatly influenced by her wartime drafting experience, by the art of Paul Klee, and by pre-Columbian art. During this time she began to incorporate words and phrases, proverbs and other quotations in her work. In the 1960’s her study of an 1851 Cyclopedia led to the incorporation of a rough, black, chemical crust on her copper enamel panels. In 1970 Kay used a watercolor monoprint method in applying industrial oil-based screening pastes to large pyro enamel on steel works. In the late 70’s, with her acquired Eminence Credential, she taught wax-crayon-resist champlevé and started making her cloisonné enamel on copper beads which use the base coat (of her apprentice days) in combination with original innovations.
During the years in San Diego area she carried on the active schedule of studio work and participation in her community, which characterized her life. She created courses at the La Jolla Museum (1956-59), and became an active member of the San Diego Museum of Art, and exhibited nationally.
In addition to her enameling and the teaching of her medium she juried and curated exhibitions, worked with volunteers and created children’s programs. She is an exhibitor, a prizewinner, an editor, and is currently spearheading an educational exhibit to be presented at the Boston Public Library this year, which will celebrate a millennium of enameling. Many organizations have benefited from her creativity, energy, and time. Whitcomb was instrumental in forming the Enamel Guild: West. Other organizations, for which she has served in positions from committee member to president, are Allied Craftsmen of San Diego, San Diego Art Guild, and the Southern California Designer Craftsmen. Her current organizational work is as president and new editor for Cloisonné Collectors.
An impressive aspect of Kay Whitcomb is her ability to make things happen. She worked to form Enamel Guild: West, which was created to sponsor the 1976 Festival of Enamels at the Laguna Beach Museum of Art. (While working architecturally enamel on steel at the Belgian enamel factory in 1974, Whitcomb visited Limoges and discovered their Biennales for the Art of Enamel exhibitions. George Magadoux, their director was not aware of enameling in the United States and invited Kay to exhibit in their Biennale. She in turn opened up her invitation to include 25 Americans. Finding so much American interest she asked the Laguna Museum of Art for the 1976 exhibition.) Her interest in the golden age of Meiji cloisonné resulted in what became the Shippo Exhibition of 1987 at the Los Angeles County Museum.
Whitcomb is without doubt one of the driving forces behind what enameling has become today. Her story has not stopped at what ‘has been’. Her energy and interests are contributing now to the course enameling will take over the next 50 years, as she continues to push out across media and geographical boundaries.