Balmer, Boyd & Stewart / LAMA

Balmer, Boyd & Stewart

By Dave Hampton

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the work of June Schwarcz, Kay Whitcomb and the Woolleys was exhibited repeatedly in the Pasadena Museum of Art's exhibition series California Design

Jean Balmer Terrace Bottle, California Design 9

Pacific Beach-based potter Jean Balmer exhibited ceramics in California Design 9. For California Design 10, held in 1968, the prolific San Diego potter David Stewart contributed an elaborate handmade chess set. Described as a "limited production" item, it had ceramic pieces rendered in green and white animal forms on a tile surface playing board.

David Stewart Chess Set, California Design 10

Stewart was studying sculpture at San Diego State in 1959 on the GI Bill when he saw a show of Marguerite Wildenhain's pottery organized by Martha Longenecker in the campus art department. He chanced upon Wildenhain in the parking lot and chatted with the Bauhaus master potter before the event. Wildenhain "showed a movie and she gave a little talk and answered questions." After the film, they went into the ceramics lab to see her work. Stewart recalled, "I was absolutely stunned. I thought those pots were so beautiful - the most beautiful I'd ever seen." 

He went home and told his wife Nyva, "we're going to Pond Farm next Summer to study pottery," and proceeded to build his own wheel from what he'd just seen in the film. Studying at Wildenhain's Pond Farm workshop and summer school at Guerneville from 1959-61, Stewart soon had "more time on the wheel than the graduate students" at San Diego State.

Stewart maintained strong ties with Wildenhain and assisted her at summer sessions from 1962 until her retirement in 1980. Never straying far from the typical Pond Farm stock glaze formulations, Stewart became one of the few "producing" potters of that time in San Diego, making and selling his wares full time to support his family.

"I think I was the first person to have these, pottery sales...kind of yard sales. I don't know anybody else that was doing them at the time."

Another popular San Diego ceramist, Wayne Chapman, whose production quantity and work habits would eventually rival Stewart's, similarly established a schedule of home pottery sales during the late 1960s.

While based in rural Dulzura, east of San Diego near the Mexico border, Stewart operated his own shop in Old Town for fifteen years where he threw pots and sold directly to the public. It was a popular tourist area and on weekends the whole family helped out. His children also spent their summers at Pond Farm and grew up making high quality pots stamped with their own individual marks. 

During the early 1960s Stewart  was a member of the San Diego Potters Guild and he later joined the Allied Craftsmen, but membership organizations didn't really suit his outlook. He felt like almost everyone in the Allied Craftsmen taught, or had other employment, or spouses, "to depend on."

"The meetings were long, and boring, and everybody had a different opinion... at one time they were going to make it a non-profit organization so they had this lawyer come out who was explaining all this non-profit stuff and I said, 'We've got the wrong guy here - I'd like somebody to come out and show us how to make a profit! I make my living this way, the rest of you people have somebody to depend on.' I had a wife and three kids - I wanted to make my living this way."

Stewart's position would certainly have resonated with Jack Boyd, who was well known during the same period as a jeweler and sculptor. Boyd forged a rigorously independent path to earning a living and raising a family solely from the sale of his art. The two undoubtedly crossed paths in Old Town where, for a time, Boyd had a satellite showroom on Congress Street in the Old Town Mercado.

 Without any formal art training, Boyd had such an early gift for creating compelling shapes in metal that he "became a professional silver and gold-smith at age 17." Billed as "one of San Diego's youngest silversmiths," Boyd was invited to come as a guest to one of the Allied Craftsmen's monthly meetings at the home of jeweler James Parker in 1954. He joined the group in his early twenties. His youth and background contrasted sharply with the extensive educations and teaching careers of the other more experienced members.

Brought up in the mountain community of Alpine, east of San Diego, Boyd spent time hunting, fishing, skin diving in the Pacific and intuitively responded to the details and impressions of his natural surroundings in most of his work. Local critic Dr Armin Kietzmann recognized "the forms and trends of modern sculpture" in Boyd's early jewelry and further identified in his interplay of mass and void "...that 'big vision' of which Henry Moore spoke." Moore's powerful influence remained evident throughout Boyd's work.

During the mid-to-late 1950s Boyd developed his business in La Jolla, the affluent community provided exhibition opportunities and clientele and he lived just south of there, on Chalcedony Street in Pacific Beach. Prior to 1962 he kept a La Jolla post office box and identified his sculpture with evocative Arts of La Jolla marketing labels. In addition to exhibiting at the La Jolla Art Center and at Dean Marshall Interiors, Boyd was featured in the opening exhibition of the original Jefferson Gallery on Girard Ave. He was one of only two sculptors whose work was selected for that inaugural show, the other being Russell Forester. Early collectors, Mr. and Mrs. Mansfield Mills, selected pieces of sculpture for the interior of their 1959 Dale Naegle-designed and Julius Shulman-photographed home.

Boyd's first workshop was in the back room of a custom mosaics shop called Viejas located at 5460 La Jolla Boulevard. Viejas produced tables, lamps and wall panels which Boyd sometimes worked on. At this time he made jewelry, primarily of silver, using fabricating techniques. Later, his reputation was primarily associated with a closely guarded technique for welding bronze that became his signature material for affordable jewelry and for much of his sculpture.

Boyd described himself as a full time sculptor in 1962 with the opening of his own gallery and studio on Morena Blvd. and became one of the most successful midcentury artists in San Diego. He vigorously corresponded with museum shops and galleries across the country, sending photos back and forth and shipping boxes of sculpture through the post. The colorful Scottsdale gallerist and artist Dick Seeger featured Boyd for years as one of his most popular artists and requested custom made pieces. Boyd's work was shown internationally at the Aalto's iconic Artek Gallery in Helsinki and at the venerable Stockholm department store, Nordiska Kompaniet.

Jack Boyd bronze with Dick Seeger plastic cubes

His work integrated such techniques and materials as painting, enamel on copper, wood, ceramics, cast bronze, welded steel, and–in the case of much of his distinctive jewelry–welded bronze. On the occasion of Boyd's 1959 solo  exhibition at the William James Gallery, The San Diego Union art critic Dr. Armin Kietzmann positioned Boyd's work "directly opposite" that of the Woolleys, who were simultaneously showing at the San Diego Public Library. 

"While the Woolleys in their enamels are opening new scale vistas to a goldsmiths medium, Boyd pours the feeling of monumental sculpture into his jewelry."

Jean Balmer was one of San Diego's most unique and inventive ceramic artists. A modest and reclusive poet in her later years, she shyly declined to be tape recorded during my interviews. She grew up in Oregon and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Oregon in 1944. She attended the Art Institute of Buffalo from 1948 until 1951, when she moved west with her husband Bud. 

While living in Pacific Beach, Balmer studied at the Art Center in La Jolla from 1951-1953 and then at Monty Lewis' Coronado School of Fine Arts from 1953-1955. She later studied with Rhoda Lopez at the Art Center and exhibited in the organization's membership exhibitions. Further studies with Marg Loring and Hal Riegger broadened her approach. She dug the clay for some her early pots from the earth in the yet undeveloped Miramar Road area.

In 1959 Balmer helped to found the San Diego Potters' Guild (still extant in Spanish Village) and she joined the Allied Craftsmen in 1962. Her husband Bud came along to most of the group's meetings where he could typically be found playing chess with Margaret Price's husband, Hubert. At that time, Balmer and  San Diego State art professor Jack Rogers Hopkins were the only Potters’ Guild members who were also in the Allied Craftsmen. 

Balmer showed with the San Diego Art Guild as well as in a wide variety of local shows and sales during the 1960s but worked at her own unhurried pace for her own creative satisfaction. Balmer exhibited two teapots, a branch pot and two of her stoneware birds in California Design 9 in 1965.

Her pottery encompassed everything from delicately controlled teapots and decorative bird forms, to handbuilt sculpture and garden forms intended for outdoor use. These bulbous pots resembled rocks, with subdued glazes and surface pockets to catch the morning dew. Infused with her own singular personality, these forms are unmistakable and many of the best examples never left her own garden. 

When she relocated a short distance away to University City in the 1970s and just never got around to building another kiln, she became occupied with printmaking and poetry. While she never threw another pot, Balmer's home was filled with her creations and the work of her Allied Craftsmen companions. In 1977 Balmer published a eulogy for her good friend Ellamarie Woolley in Craft Horizons magazine.

Parts this post are adapted from San Diego's Craft Revolution by Dave Hampton, which was published in conjunction with the exhibition he curated at Mingei International Museum.

I can't thank Dave enough for his continued dedication and scholarship. He has had such an impact on me and I'm still learning from him.