A visit to Bloor Street and Avenue Road here in Toronto, Canada brings you face to face with the old and the new. The old, dignified and stately side of the Royal Ontario Museum rests squarely on Avenue Road and on Bloor Street the Crystal soars above us. The Royal Ontario Museum [ROM], the fifth largest museum in North America now twinned in a recent renovation and expansion project with the Crystal.

The Crystal is a Deconstructivist crystalline-form clad in 25 percent glass and 75 percent aluminum and houses the new main entrance to the museum. Michael Lee-Chin, a Jamaican-Canadian donated thirty million dollars towards the construction of this magnificent structure.

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The “Crystal” Royal Ontario Museum

Our Museum is an extremely busy place as it reaches out to provide many programs for all those who wish to participate in exciting courses. I naturally gravitated towards this space for my return to teaching and to pass on my knowledge of Enamel-on-Copper; this old form to a new body of learners.

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The ROM is the largest museum in Canada containing more than six million items and over forty galleries and continues to expand to meet the needs of the many visitors. Enamel lessons have been available since the fall of 2008 and as the resident Enameling Instructor I am delighted to be introducing this art and craft to new students. Old information passed on to create new enamellists.

This term I asked some of my students to write short comments re enameling and I include some of those comments that were written down in response to my question: “What do you like about enameling? “

  1. I like enameling because every piece is an adventure. I start with an idea and then I entrust it to the fire. Sometimes the piece is what I envisioned, sometimes it has a different beauty I like the fact that if I don’t like it I can start over!
  2. Enameling is very interesting and I like to look at the way it changes the copper. The teacher makes it very interesting the way she teaches the class.
  3. When I saw the course for Enameling was being offered I jumped at the chance to try something different Enameling challenges both the creative and practical sides of me.
  4. I enjoy both the art and the technical aspects and seeing the fruits of my labor instantly.
  5. I have enjoyed learning about enameling because it combines the relaxing nature of the application of the enamel powder with the anticipation /stress of watching it transformed into a finished piece.
  6. I have always been drawn to metals and fire. This has encouraged me to take up blacksmithing and silversmithing.

Enameling was another facet of art that captured my fascination that needed to be explored. Now that I have experienced this I feel my skills have evolved into a new and exciting area. I can’t wait to begin combining my enameling skill and working on silver.

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Phyllis Broorn-Walker (right) with student

Years of teaching informs one that adult learners bring an enthusiasm to the tasks of learning that is different from children. The adult learners understand that one must master techniques before one can create and so they apply themselves with zest to learning how to apply the powder and prepare themselves to create beautiful art.

Studying the techniques and beginning to explore all that Enameling has to offer is always exciting. Excitement with increased practice whether on the piano or with the sifter on the copper shape is twinned with proficiency. All students know when they have mastered techniques and I was pleased to see the students and the smiles on their faces as they began to master enameling techniques.

As a teacher it is wonderful to see students exploring, learning and experimenting with the enamel powder. It is always exciting to see the different expressions from those who work conceptually, as I do, and the others who prefer to work freely to create a piece of art. Different and equal individual expressions are evident as students progress with their enamel works.

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The structure of the classes allows for three hours of enjoyable weekly enameling. At the end of each session ten minutes spent listening to the how and why of the created piece allows all to learn and extend their knowledge. It is always difficult to quit and walk out of the studio because we are all having so much fun! I take in examples from my private collection of enamels so that students can see a variety of individual expressions; hopefully some learners might be motivated to reach for the heights.

Creativity gives to all human beings a joy that cannot be repressed. It transforms the humdrum and banal existence of life and enriches all who have the courage to begin to explore Art. Life is made bearable and joyful whether in the concentration camps of Europe or during the soul-numbing years of slavery. Art is the yeast that transforms the ordinary to the extraordinary in us. Our ROM is a vibrant, exciting place full of old and beautiful artifacts and yet it is a warm welcoming space with the vision to embrace the new and the different. The adults who are eager to learn to enamel have a teacher who is eager to share all that she knows so that history of enameling continues here at the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada.

About the Author

Phyllis Broom-Walker, B.A.; B. Ed.; M. Ed. studied enameling with Alan Perkins and Joyce Merrifield in Toronto, Canada. Learning is for life and Phyllis has continued to attend conferences and workshops taught by leading enamellists in the U.S. and from enamellists who were invited into Toronto to teach their art form.

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As the founder and first president of the Canadian Enamellists’ Association Phyllis chose to invite Master-Enamelist Bill Helwig to Toronto to teach. Enameling has allowed Phyllis to teach to countless students each year in the schools that she has taught in and at adult evening classes. A contributor to Glass on Metal@ with professional articles and as the foreign correspondent from Canada to the U.S. Phyllis has continued to contribute to the growth of enameling in Toronto because of her dedication to the Art.