This ceramic vessel was made by Claude Conover, a well-known Cleveland, Ohio ceramicist. Born in 1907, Conover worked for much of his career as a commercial designer and made his pottery for many years at night. He eventually made his ceramics his livelihood. His work has been collected nationwide and beyond and at the time of his death, at least twenty museums held Conover works in their collections. Conover won the Cleveland Arts Prize in visual arts in 1983. He passed away in 1994.
A hallmark of his robust, ceramic vessels is the embellishment he incised into the earthy, monochromatic surfaces, the meanders and patterns suggesting symbols or script of forgotten meaning. For those of us who find the pottery forms of many artisans to be a link with our ancient past, Conover’s work approaches the spiritual. He named each work – this one is called Olma. It is 19” high and 14” in diameter.
My late wife, Nancy McIntyre came into possession of Olma long before I met her. She started collecting art in the late ‘60’s and my recollection was that she bought Olma through Shaw’s Department store in Tallahassee. Shaw’s was known for its eclectic mix of quality modernist furniture, imported accessories and crafts, antiques and ‘artist made’ art. I made a promise to myself never to sell a certain short list of art pieces I came to love in her St. Petersburg apartment when I met her in 1983, Olma being one of them. But in a moment of financial stress in 2013, and knowing it was one of the artworks in the house with a meaningful market value, I shipped it to Rachel Davis Gallery in Cleveland, where one can find avid collectors of Conover’s work. Ms. Davis did a wonderful job as it sold at auction for exactly what she said it would.
I will always miss Olma for sentimental reasons and because it is a great ceramic piece I enjoyed for thirty years. Olma’s place near the front door of the house remains open. But the special, timeless energy of the Conover creation now lives with others. That energy, rather than any assumed market value, is one of the reasons why Nancy collected art and built a dynamic ceramics collection.
Note: Lot Report from the Rachel Davis Gallery records the work as Ulma. The minor misspelling now accompanies the work in online auction references.
This batik image is a part of the collection of very interesting stuff in my house and a challenge to the question, “why do we collect art?”. Measuring 37”h x 51”w, the artwork is by the late artist James Alan Nordmeyer. Created in the early 1980’s, it is a version of a lily pad and water theme with flying ribbons or banners that was common for the artist. This work is a little unique in that it is almost monochromatic – other similar works enjoyed a harmonic use of many colors, especially rich sky blues.
My late wife Nancy and I enjoyed it for many years in our Dunedin, Florida home. As I recall, we acquired this work at a Dunedin Fine Art Center (DFAC) Garden Party fundraiser, probably in the late ‘90’s. We knew numerous people through our work at DFAC who had Nordmeyer’s work displayed prominently in their homes. I believe Nancy knew Nordmeyer to some extent, but I don’t think I ever met him.
Nordmeyer was an accomplished artist who specialized in batik. Batik is a process by which the dyeing of cloth is controlled with wax, allowing images and designs to be created. In a 1978 article in the St. Petersburg Evening Independent by writer Jeanette Crane, Nordmeyer stated “I love the medium because of what wax does. Like watercolor, or like ceramic glazes, wax can be controlled.”
Peggy Mateer, a Dunedin Fine Art Center Past President, Junior League of Clearwater / Dunedin Sustainer, art patron and realtor, shared that Nordmeyer was an impressive teacher as well as an accomplished artist. Corinne Mateer, her husband Wayne’s mother, took batik and silk dyeing classes with Nordmeyer at DFAC in the early 1980’s. Peggy remembers him as tall, slim, handsome and very outgoing.
Bill Renc, a highly regarded area artist, knew Nordmeyer well. “James was a well-liked individual. We became good friends for many years. When Linda and I returned from our first trip to England in 1985, we heard of his death. After we touched down in Tampa, Linda’s mom told us of his obituary in the paper that morning.”
Nordmeyer was 36 years old when he died, one of the many early victims of AIDS. Born in Covington, Ky. Nordmeyer moved to Pinellas County in 1978. “Jim was an artist who solved the dilemma of plodding through one show to another, hoping to break free. He found success in sales, was collected by Raymond James Corporation and won First Place in the prestigious Festival of the Masters,” said Renc. Nordmeyer was selected to produce the now defunct Pinellas County Arts Council’s limited edition sponsor awards in the last year of his life. His work can be found in homes all over the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
According to his obituary in the St. Petersburg Evening Independent of June 15, 1985, Nordmeyer was quoted as saying, “…batiking was ‘manipulating the magic’.”
Nordmeyer’s brilliant images and his mastery of the batik medium were very popular.
“Jim would find long pieces of cloths or blankets, often with broad stripes on the fabric,” said Renc. “Friends held up corners of the long pieces of cloth and released them. Jim photographed them as they floated back down to the ground. He would use the images as inspiration for his work.”
Nordmeyer was also a regular participant in Dunedin’s Art Harvest Art Festival. “As annual participants, we used to be able to request the same space each year at Art Harvest,” said Renc. “Right after Jim died, his regular spot was left unassigned with his name card in place.” It was a tribute to him from the Junior League of Clearwater / Dunedin who presented the art festival. A memorial exhibition was presented inside DFAC, made up of work found under his bed and borrowed from others. “I was assigned to frame everything,” laughed Renc. “I didn’t have enough of my own inventory that year, I was so busy getting Jim’s work ready for the exhibition.”
Bill’s wife Linda, also a highly regarded calligrapher and artist, remembers a quirk of Nordmeyer’s. “He went barefooted a lot,” she said.” His studio was his garage and his feet were often stained with procion dyes.”
My house is full of Florida art, made mostly by people we knew. Many were close friends and many of them are deceased. Nothing either one of us ever collected an artwork as a financial investment. It was about the people. This work is special to me as the artist is associated with the earlier years of the organization where Nancy and I spent the best nineteen years of our lives. The work remains both a favorite of mine and a reminder of an unfulfilled friendship.
Many thanks to artist Elio Camacho for his October 30th demo of his painting and color mixing techniques at the Dunedin Fine Art Center. The image shown is the 30” x 40” demo painting at the 4:00 p.m. end of the demo, offering a revealing combination of the nearly finished painting and ‘in progress’ brush and color work. It was done in one hour and forty-five minutes with a single #10 flat brush, frequently wiped with paper towels, but never cleaned. The majority of his harmonious color mixing is done on the canvas with the single brush - the amiable Camacho confessed to the attentive gathering of painters that the two additional brushes always held in his left hand are only a ‘nervous tick’.
He begins a painting by quickly making a loose sketch with a stiff brush, defining shapes, values and indicating problem areas in the still life composition. As the sketch is refined, loosely brushed color is applied and the work is eventually blocked in. Shapes are refined as the color is mixed on the canvas. The occasional removal of paint with a brushstroke reveals underlying color. Only toward the end do the objects take on the colors and character of the actual pieces in his ala prima style.
Later in the evening, the Stroke of Genius Painting and Performance Program continued with Koki Sugita (Japan – Captivating performance art combines contemporary art with Japanese tradition); and Glenn Grishkoff (California – The art of brush making and performance art embodies the power of the brush stroke), offering performance-oriented demonstrations to a large crowd. The following day, these artists taught workshops and the Florida Orchestra performed for families at DFAC. Congratulations to a job well done by many in putting these events together. Special thanks to Christine Renc-Carter, Adult Education Director, for her creative, hard work!