Object of the Week: Ellamarie Woolley\’s No End

Over the course of her thirty-year career, Ellamarie Woolley created innovative work that significantly advanced the field of enamel arts. Woolley, along with her husband Jackson, first encountered the art of enameling through a demonstration at Scripps College in Claremont, California in 1947. Fascinated by the process, the couple began working collaboratively, beginning with bowls, plates, ashtrays, and boxes. In the 1950s, they started making largescale enameled murals which were often installed on public buildings throughout California. The couple’s creative interests diverged in the mid-1960s, and Ellamarie began constructing hard-edge, abstract wall pieces. No End, made in 1970, exemplifies this new style.

In a statement included in the brochure for a 1972 exhibition of her work at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, Woolley wrote:

“When I turned again to smaller work, I soon realized that I had acquired some personal clichés of design and technique that I was using in an automatic way to do things I knew too well how to do. An upheaval, a new start, a fresh eye were needed. I found my clue to a new approach by taking a new look at our everyday city environment—at traffic signs, commercial emblems, store fronts. These all said: simplify, clarify, unify.”

Rather than working within the traditional confines of a rectangular form, Woolley altered the form itself, creating irregular and abstract shapes which she then enameled with bold color combinations. Influenced by Op art trends of the time, she used geometric patterns to create flat compositions that appear three-dimensional.

Woolley frequently contributed work to the Ceramic National exhibitions, which provided her with a platform to share her work throughout the United States. Established at the Everson (then called the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts) by Director Anna Olmsted in 1932, the Ceramic Nationals were a series of juried exhibitions that attracted ceramic artists from across the country to display their works in Syracuse. After showing at the Everson, these exhibitions often traveled to several other venues around the country, sparking a national interest in the ceramic arts and changing the public’s view of pottery from a craft to a respected art form.

In 1970, Woolley submitted No End to the Everson’s 26th Ceramic National exhibition, titled Ceramics 70, plus Woven Forms. Rather than accepting entries from any artist for this iteration of the National, the Museum instead invited forty-four artists to submit work of their choosing. The exhibition organizers awarded No End the Purchase Prize given by the Thomas C. Thompson Company, and the work was acquired for the Everson’s collection.

No End is currently on display in FOCUS, an exhibition featuring selected works from the Museum’s collection in order to spark a dialogue about how objects relate to one another across time, medium, and subject matter. FOCUS is on view through April 22, 2018.

Image caption: Ellamarie Woolley, No End, 1970, enamel on copper, Everson Museum of Art; Purchase Prize given by Thomas C. Thompson Company, 26th Ceramic National, 1970, 70.34