Felicia Liban and Learning to Enamel

While living in Little Neck, NY, during the mid-sixties, I took an enameling class at the local YWHA. It took a while for me to overcome my fear of the open kiln, but in time it was alright, so much so, that after a few courses my instructor, Jeanette Klienman, asked me to help her in class.

I found it such an exciting event) that I learned the Thompson colors by heart and how they looked after being fired, so I helped students with their work. In about a year, I was asked by Ms. Klienman to teach the evening class. In time she retired and I taught all the enameling classes at the studio.

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Great Blue Heron Brooch/Pendant
Cloisonne enamel on fine silver, wet inlay method, fire finished.
Set in sterling silver, suspended on Lapis round and two carved beads
2 – 3/8 x 2″; 18 inches long

In the meantime, I purchased a kiln put it in my basement and enameled on my own, doing mostly wall plaques on copper. In 1972,I took a weekend workshop with Bob Kulicke at a college on Long Island in cloisonne enamel for jewelry. I was totally taken with this technique. The very next day after the workshop, I signed up for U. classes with their studio in New York City, and stayed there for five years, at the same time still teaching at the YWTIA.

I was a stay-at-home mom) so my art background was taking private classes in drawing and painting with babies on my knee. A lot of it was self-taught as I went along. I took a course in design for one semester at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. After learning to enamel I put all my efforts into that medium, and continued with the Kulicke/Stark Academy and numerous workshops whenever they presented themselves. I had a large teaching studio in my home with a big following. I have been involved in enameling for 34 years.

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Starry Night. Brooch
Enamel on copper, stenciled, silk screened, painted, dusted and foiled Set in sterling silver with Retulated Quartz
2 x 2 inches

Most of my work consists of cloisonne enamel jewelry, but occasionally I make large wall plaques often having several pieces to the composition, since my kiln only accommodates an 8xl0 inch panel of copper or steel. Often I employ various methods in a single piece of work. I took classes with the master, Bill Helwig, who taught me how to do Grisaille, and how to foil. I use this method along with cloisonne for a varied effect. Other times I use silk screens) stencils, underglaze “D” and either I under fire or matt the surface with acid to get the look I strive for. For a sculptural effect I fold and hammer the etched or roller printed metal prior to enameling.

One of my interests is photographing objects and places that may have a later inspiration in my studio. If it happens to be a scene with a lot of reflection, I will underlay foil to get the sheen, or if there needs to be a stone set into the enamel, I will provide the holes for the screws that will be put through at the end. I work the drawing out on vellum so that I can place it over the actual piece of work and see where I am placing things, as I have an idea from the start what it is I want it to look like. Therefore my inspiration comes often from photographs I have taken and I saved in a file.

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9/II Rising from the Ashes
Three panels depicting ground zero, the aftermath, and rising from the ashes
Stenciled, silk screened, painted, dusted., and foiled Cast sterling silver enameled wings are cold connected
Framed, 12 x 19 inches

My studio is a small, well lit room about 10×11 foot, but it accommodates a lot of equipment. I have a table with two kilns on it. One is 11×13 inch inside and the other is 5×6 inch. Both have controllers which keep the appropriate temperature. One wall is all bookcases filled with jars of enamels, there is a doorway to the kitchen to get to a sink, and then on the same side of the room is my enameling bench with extra enamels over it and all the beakers, sifters and a drawer with all the implements to work with, a day-light lamp on the bench as well as a skylight overhead. On the opposite wall of the kiln bench is my metalsmith bench where I can solder, saw, file etc. Above it there is a vented hood with a fan into the attic. Right next to this bench is one more bookcase filled with all the books on enameling, metalsmithing and catalogs. The fourth wall has a window and just enough room for an old dentist’s cabinet that holds just about everything one can think of. In the center is the rolling mill mounted on a stand and secured to the floor. Then there is only room for me.

As I mentioned earlier, Bill Helwig was a great inspirer for me, as was Marilyn Druin, Jamie Bennet, Larissa Podgoretz, Jenny Gore, Linda Datty and William Harper. I have read and re-read Fred Ball’s book as well as Kenneth Bates. All these wonderful artists have added to my knowledge for which I am grateful.

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Heron in Profile. Brooch
Cloisonne enamel on fine silver, wet inlay, gold underlay and Grisaille method, fire finished
Set in sterling silver and Mokume Gane
Boulder Opal 2 x 2 inches

I have sold my work well all these years at various galleries. Aaron Faber, NY, Del Mano, CA, Honore Gallery, CT (25 years) several Enamellist Society Juried Exhibitions, Cloisonne Enamel Contest, Japan, Signature Galley, CA, Hecksher Museum LI NY, Shelter Rock Gallery, NY (retrospective ) and too many others to mention. My life in Florida had come to a point I could not do any new work or market what I had. Now I just do exhibitions and time will tell where or when I will sell again.

Teaching had become a part of my life, which I missed sorely after my move from New York. So when the time was right, I sought out Art Center Manatee in Bradenton FL, not far from my house and I inquired if they needed an enameling teacher. They did, but had zero equipment, supplies and money. So I got in touch with Averill Shepps, president of The Enamellist Society and applied for a grant. The Art Center got it and I am teaching there in a very lovely studio.

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This is an amusing recollection that I want to share. While still living in New York, I was enameling a piece of cloisonne pretty much the whole day but it was dinner time already and my family was upstairs waiting for dinner and so I ran up just for a while…cooked the dinner, served it, did the dishes and to my horror realized that I left the piece in the kiln for the last firing! I ran down to the studio, took the piece out of the kiln, (it was silver cloisons on fine silver sheet) and lo and behold, not only was it not melted into a puddle, but it was glorious! Most of the colors were transparent and it was fine silver, which is what saved it.

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Pink Columbine. Brooch/Pendant
Cloisonne enamel on fine silver, wet inlay method, fire finished Set in 18K gold, suspended on fresh water gray pearls
1.5 2 inches; 17 inches long

I work with transparent enamels mostly. I love “shadowing” by using opaque under opalescent from dark to light. By doing that it gives the impression of a shadow. The transparents can interplay with one another, which gives them a watercolor wash look.

I hope to see my work evolve and become its very “own” so that it is my signature. Hopefully, I will show more of it, that will make me more willing to experiment and not look whether it sells or not. My work can be seen on my website, felicialiban.com and also in my book which I co-authored with Louise Mitchell entitled “Cloisonne and Jewelry Making”, reprinted by Dover Publications, also on my “how to” DVD, “Cloisonne” Photo credits: Gerald Stoodley and Herb Booth.

By Felicia Liban [Volume 28, Number 1, February, 2009]
In association with
glass on metal
Glass on Metal is the only publication dedicated to enameling and related arts. Technical information, book reviews, how-to articles and insight on contemporary enamelers highlight each issue.
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