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Arthur & Jean Ames Mosaic Artists

September 12, 2022

Jean Goodwin Ames (November 5, 1903 – February 13, 1986) (née Jean Goodwin) was an American artist, muralist, painter, ceramicist, and sculptor. Born in Santa Ana, California, Ames studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1931.

After graduating she taught art at Citrus High School and Junior College from 1933 until 1936. She earned an MFA from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1937. During her time at USC, she became interested in murals and mural decoration.

She also met her future husband, Arthur Ames, in a night ceramics class at USC. The creation of a majolica tile mural in the lobby of the Science building at USC served as her master’s thesis. Jean and Arthur often collaborated over the course of their careers, including on several murals for the Works Progress Administration.

It was during their time working for the W.P.A. that Jean and Arthur became some of the first artists in California to use mosaics. Over the course of her career, Jean created tapestries and mosaics that decorate buildings throughout Southern California.

Jean became a faculty member at Scripps College and Claremont Graduate School in 1940 and remained there until she retired in 1969. Jean served as Chair of the Art Department at the Claremont Graduate School from 1962 until 1969, when she was made a Professor Emerita.

Arthur Ames was born in Tamaroa, Illinois in 1906, and moved during his childhood to Ontario, California where he attended both elementary and secondary school. He received his undergraduate training at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and taught design at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles for seventeen years.

Trained in a wide variety of artistic disciplines, Ames, along with his wife Jean, produced paintings, sculpture, prints, ceramics, tapestries, murals, mosaics, and tile decorations throughout his long and richly productive career. Enameling was, however, their preferred medium.

The Ames’s fascination with enameling began in 1941 when they saw an exhibition of the work of Karl Drerup at Scripps College where Jean Ames taught. Largely self-taught – through trial and error and by reading the few technical books available at the time — they began enameling in earnest in 1948 after attending a brief workshop offered at Scripps by the ceramist Rick Petterson.

Inspired in part by the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso and the stained-glass-like compositions of Georges Rouault, Arthur Ames’s earliest enamels of the late 1940s and early 1950s were figurative. However, over time, he became interested in abstraction and his enamel panels became increasingly formal and geometric.

Rich, vibrant colour typifies his work of the 1950s and early 1960s. During the last seven years of his life – 1968 to 1975 – Arthur Ames created relatively large abstractions by assembling separate enamel panels and sculptural forms into large cohesive compositions. These were among the most innovative works the artist ever produced.

Arthur Ames’s enamels were featured in several important early exhibitions including the watershed Enamel: A Historic Survey to the Present Day, held in 1954 at the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, the precursor to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and Objects USA, which toured this country and Europe after its initial presentation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts in 1969. Below is work by Arthur Ames, “Three Fisherman,” Federal Art Project mosaic for Newport Harbor Union High School, 1937.

I hadn’t come across the name Millard Sheets until I delved further into the work of Arthur and Jean Ames, I hope to feature his collaborations soon on my blog, watch this space !!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle permalink
    September 13, 2022 6:17 pm

    This is an excellent full article on Jean and Arthur Ames. the fullest I’ve seen. Thank you. I studied with Jean Ames at Scripps College in the ’50s. I hope you will do an article on Millard Sheets. He was my wonderfulll father.
    C. Owen-Towle

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