The Art of Enameling Copper-based creations shine all around Angela Franklin

January 01, 1995|By Sandra Crockett

Baltimore artist Angela Franklin wants to dispel a myth.

"People have this feeling that drawing is innate," says Ms. Franklin, whose primary medium is enamel.

"People believe that you are just born with the talent. And this leads to the myth that artists don't work! But they don't see us in our studios in the evenings or for 10 or 12 hours during weekend days."

Work, she does. Days are spent teaching art at the private McDonogh School in Baltimore County. Evenings and weekends Franklin works at her Hollins Street studio. Right now, she is putting the finishing touches on three ambitious projects.

In her spare time, the 34-year-old Ms. Franklin conducts an enameling class for young people at her church; designs and sells jewelry, and is writing and illustrating a children's book.

"I have this strong work ethic," she says in somewhat of an understatement. While standing in her unpretentious studio dressed in a customary white lab coat, she talks about the path that led her to becoming an artist.

She was born outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. As the youngest of eight children, the soft-spoken Ms. Franklin was always being encouraged to "speak up" and find her voice.

In the second grade, she discovered her "voice" was best represented through art.

"Teachers told my mother that I was creative," says Ms. Franklin, who has lived in Baltimore for four years. Although her parents were not wealthy -- her father was a maintenance worker for the local telephone company and her mother a homemaker -- they decided their children should explore their talents.

"They kept me in Saturday classes and after-school classes," she says. Usually, she was the only black child in the art classes.

She went on to graduate from Xavier University in Cincinnati with a bachelor's degree in art. She has a master's in fine art from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She taught at Morgan State University before joining the staff at McDonogh.

It was during her years as an undergraduate that Ms. Franklin was introduced to the art of enameling. The three-dimensional art form is more popular in other countries than it is here and Ms. Franklin is accustomed to people being confused about it.

First of all, she points out, enameling is not the same as ceramics. "People tend to always list me as a ceramist. That isn't all bad but my medium is enameling," says Ms. Franklin, who does some ceramics.

One difference is that the base for a ceramic piece is clay. The base is copper on her enamel pieces, Ms. Franklin explains. And a clay piece goes into a kiln from anywhere between 10 and 12 hours.

"An enamel piece goes into a kiln for maybe a minute and a half or two minutes. And the process must be repeated," she says.

Ms. Franklin begins by putting her idea on paper with a pencil. She follows that with a drawing in color. Sometimes she will make a tiny sculpture of the work. For the actual artwork, she begins with large sheets of copper and fuses various pieces together to achieve her goal.

The finished project is colored with finely ground glass before it goes into the kiln. The pieces are intricate and bold in color. Picture a sculpturelike work of art suitable for hanging on a wall.

All this takes time -- often a few months to finish one piece. "I don't try to work fast," she explains. "It should be a slow process. It takes time for the ideas to come."

The titles of her works are lyrical compliments to the beauty of the art. For instance, one is called "In the Third Generation the Daughters Are Free." That piece features a pregnant woman rising out of a pool of rough waters.

"Round About Seven My World Sits Still" is the title of a work in progress. "It deals with the death of my father," she explains. So far, it is of a woman in a rocking position with her arms wrapped around her body. Included will be a clock with the time stopped at 7.

"My father died the seventh of November at 7 p.m. and he had seven daughters," Ms. Franklin says.

Ms. Franklin, who was recently honored for her artwork at Philadelphia's Afro American Historical and Culture Museum, credits her mother and father for encouraging her to stick with her chosen field. "A lot of times parents don't want their children to major in art because they don't see art as a way of being able to make a living. But I never heard any discouragement from them," she says.

And she is passing that attitude on to her students.

"I believe you should pick something you have a passion for," Ms. Franklin says. "Because if you have a passion for it, you will survive."

Ms. Franklin's enamel work is included in a nationally touring exhibit called "Uncommon Beauty and Common Objects, the Legacy of African American Crafts." In this area, the display is scheduled at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution from March 31 through June 8.

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