I was 30 when I met June Schwarcz at her 80th retrospective at the American Craft Museum. When I approached her to ask work as her assistant, we complimented each other on our skirts, both Commes des Garçons, and were soon so lost in conversation that I forgot to mention I'd love to work for her. The line behind me getting long, I gave her my card and told her I admired her work and that I also worked in enamel. June had the same idea I did, and a month later invited me to join her in the studio. Mondays were filled with three hours of work and four hours of lunch, sharing stories about art, the people who made and sold it and ordinary things like family and relationships.
Working for June, I learned how she saw and created in three dimensions. One of the first task she gave me was to lay out a flat pattern and cut it out of thin copper, like cutting fabric for clothing. June's process was much like sewing. Inspiration came from anything she felt was beautiful: when her grandson Adam went through a phase of wearing oversized, droopy pants, she did a series of vessels about his pants. She often said she didn’t like conceptual art because if it wasn’t beautiful, she couldn’t relate to it.
Though she was 50 years older, she always wanted to pull her own weight. I had to trick her into letting me help her with things. When leaving her studio together, June carrying her heavy basket of supplies up the stairs, I'd offer, "June, let me get that." She'd refuse and ask me to get the lights. I knew in the future not to ask before grabbing the basket.
Over the last seventeen years, I visited her regularly, we went to art shows and dinners. I dressed for June, because we were both interested in fashion and we had similar taste. She always wore something interesting unless she was in the studio. I like a gal who has a sense of style but also gets down to business. For an opening at Susan Cummins Gallery, she arrived in black Issey Miyake, and someone had handed her a bright pink peony. I complimented her shoes, so cool and perfect with the outfit! I asked her where she got them. "Oh honey, it's the best little shoe store called Gimme Shoes, I've got to take you there!" I loved that she thought I wouldn't know about it--the hippest shoe store in San Francisco--and I imagined her there picking out her shoes.
I was lucky enough to trade work with her. One piece of mine she wanted was an all-red enameled Panel Bracelet that was in a show at the Richmond Art Center. June called me and said, "I know the show is not coming down for a week but I am going to New York and I have the perfect outfit to wear that with. Would you ask them if you could get it early?" I got her the bracelet for her trip.
There was so much more to June than fashion. She was young at heart and I never felt our age difference until I started to see her hand shaking as she picked up her tea. She was the most inspiring and curious woman I've ever met. She had great taste and gave her opinions freely. Beauty, honesty and curiosity were were our connection. If you were fortunate enough to have met her even once, your perspective on life as a woman artist was changed forever.
This was written for Mike Holmes for The Art Jewelry Forum: see the article here: