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Past Articles from Glass on Metal

Inview:  Charles Parthesius
from Volume 9, Number 1, February 1990

     Editor's Note:  Charles Parthesius, Sr., of Lindenhurst, New York, began his successful artistic career as a watercolorist and commercial artist.  In the 1960's he was introduced to the medium of enameling.  As with many of us, the alluring qualities of glass fused to metal captivated him and turned the direction of his work to the medium of enameling.  After several years of establishing accounts, his business began to flourish, largely due to the high quality and popularity of his art enamels.  His work could be found in galleries across the United States and eventually around the world.

     In 1970, Charles Parthesius, Jr. teamed up with his father to make enameling a family business.  One of the financial highlights of their combined careers was a two man, three day show in which their retail sales totaled over $56,000.00.  During this time they were producing their enamels in a studio that measured 30 x 100 feet, accommodated several furnaces, one of which could handle a 24 x 36 inch piece of copper.

     Their enamels are owned by such notable celebrities as Sammy Davis, Jr., Barbara Eden, Dean Martin, Paul Mellon, Ethel Merman, Liza Minelli, Princess Jacqueline Oblinsky, Prince Philip of England, Merriweather Post, Vincent Price, Mario Puzzo, Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Sr., Red Skelton, and John Wayne.  Charles Parthesius, Sr. is now deceased.

Sea Breeze

     Born Charles Edward Parthesius, on April 25, 1921, in Maspeth, Queens, New York City, my father was from Dutch-German extraction and my mother was born in Switzerland.  I have no knowledge of either side of the family to have any special artistic background.

     My first recollection of having dabbled in art was at an early age.  I, with my two older brothers, sat at the kitchen table copying characters from the comics.  Our mother was the critic who encouraged all of us by praising our work.

     I continued pursuing an art education by attending as an art major, in high school.  I graduated in 1939 with honors.  Although I tried to further my art education in other schools, I could never find instruction that could compare to my experience in high school.  They had the finest program in the city.  All the subjects they taught me came into play when I began enameling.

     At the time, water color was my favorite medium, and in some ways, even now, I find that I miss working with it.  I had to work hard at watercolor because for me it was the most difficult medium.  I bought the best of brushes, paper and paint available.  Soon I was entering local art exhibits, picking up ribbons along the way.  While participating in an outdoor show here on Long Island, I was approached by a man running a private art school.  He thought so much of my work, he asked me to teach at his school.  I jumped at the chance and made quite a success of it.  One point I would like to make is that success in any endeavor does not happen overnight.  It requires self-determination, faith and time.  The tools alone do not bring about success.  "A hammer doesn't a carpenter make."

     Let me get to the enamels. . .I happened upon an open door one day where a man was working, on what turned out to by my first sight of art enamels.  I didn't think very much of his work, but it aroused my curiosity.  As we conversed about his enamels, I tried to find out why he was making so many.  He stated that he had a market for them.  The work was so poorly done, I could not believe they were even saleable.  During our conversation, the phone kept ringing.  Each time, he said it was a customer requesting the next shipment of enamels.  As I later found out, they were indeed customers.  I asked around and found out that he was shipping his works all over the country and had been falling behind on orders.  I also learned that he was not making very much money on each piece, but when the volume of his production was considered, he was doing quite well.

     He was quite an amicable sort of person so I asked him if I could try making an enamel myself.  He readily agreed and gave me some small pieces of copper, a few ounces of enamel and directed me to a place where I could purchase a small furnace.  He gave me a book to read which seemed to be the only text on enameling available at the time.  Upon looking the book over, I was overwhelmed with the amount of procedure that seemed to be involved.  Some of the techniques, such as cloisonne, looked like they would require a considerable amount of time, in the planning, preparation, and execution of the enamel piece.  I was a little discouraged with my impression that the enameling process was so much more complicated than other mediums.  I decided to try emulating what I saw my friend do.  I sieved the enamel powder on the copper, in an attempt to do a landscape.  Little did I know, that I needed more than one or two shades of green or other basic colors to get the results I was after.  You can soften, blend or intermix other mediums such as watercolors, oils or acrylics to achieve a variety of color.  With all my effort, using all that I knew, I finally made some trees, sky and a little cottage in the woods.  The only place I had a usable work area with electric was my garage.  I placed the copper and enamel into the furnace and waited until the powder began to melt.  Apparently I took it out too soon, because the enamel began to pop off. . .back to square one!  I repeated the first steps again and placed the enamel into the furnace.  This time I waited until the enamel was very shiny.  I took it out to cool, and crossed my fingers in hopes that it would not pop off again.  This time it was apparent that the enamel had fused to the copper.  I realized that the furnace had not been hot enough the first time around.  Without a pyrometer, I had to judge the temperature of the furnace by the color of the elements.  I took the finished enamel to my mentor for his evaluation.  He said, "Charles, this is very good.  Do you want to sell it?"  I was shocked, but delighted and said "Yes".  In one day it was sold to a gallery on Long Island.  I believe I received $20.00 for my first sale of a 3" x 5" enamel.  Today I probably could not give it away.  That was 22 years ago.

Fishin'

     I found a source for copper supplies and soon had my own stock.  (I later found out that the copper had to be pure copper.  I currently import pure copper stock from Europe.)  I also discovered Thomas C. Thompson Co. and ordered a complete supply of enamels covering the entire color spectrum.  Eventually I found that I could get many more tints and shades of color by mixing the enamel powders in a little cup.  The enamel colors are very brilliant and in some cases a more muted or subdued value of a particular color is needed to prevent the color from advancing.  One must be careful not to use tints or shades that are too far apart in value.  This creates a speckled effect that may be undesirable.  The hues must blend in smooth gradations.  If a background hue appears to be too strong, it is possible to subdue or haze it out by sifting a lighter color on top.  The sieve should be held high in order to achieve the maximum softening potential.  If the sieve is held too close to the enamel, concentration of the lighter color could result, and may completely cover the underlying color.  If a light touch is used, the brilliance of the underlying color will be subdued.  This type of application works well with backgrounds such as mountains, lakes , trees, etc.  I do not use a preliminary drawing.  The subject matters I use, usually come from photographs.  Some of the photographs I take myself, others are gleaned from the library or book stores.  My son and I have developed our own style of imagery (My son also took up enameling and has worked with me for 20 years now).  Our work is of the style of French impressionists such as Manet, Pizzarro, Boudin, Monet, Renoir and others that have a lot of color in their work.  We try to bring out the nostalgic times of the turn of the century.  The ladies in our work are dressed in lovely tresses and the men have derbies or high hates.  Sometimes we use a standard background which includes children playing ball, flying kites, or carrying balloons.

     One of the important tools that I use in my work is a #5 red sable brush, dipped in Elmers white water soluble glue.  The brush then is made into a sharp point and allowed to harden.  After it is dry, the bristles are trimmed to a dull point with scissors or a sharp razor blade.  The handle is shortened for better maneuverability.  I call this tool my 'pusher'.  Sometimes the glue must be redone to keep the pusher in shape.  The pusher will wear from the abrasive quality of the enamel powder.  It will usually last about a year before it needs replacing.

     The most important tools that I use are my index finger and thumb.  My fingers must be kept dry so that the enamel will not stick to my fingers.  Fingernails must be kept very short so the enamel will not collect underneath them and possibly drop out in the wrong place.

     If I choose to draw a figure, tree trunk or whatever, I use a fine-tipped felt pen.  The pen line is used as a guide to follow when 'pinching' the enamel between my index finger and thumb.  The pen line will burn off in the furnace.  If a small amount of enamel is lightly tapped to compress the image, the enamel will pack up nicely and leave a clean edge if required.  The enamel granules can either be pushed close to the subject matter or swept off the edge, if desired.  Fine lines can be made for tree branches or kite strings by manipulating your pusher in such a way as to practically get one grain behind the other.  By using a sweeping motion with the pusher, the finest lines can be obtained.

     I don't use transparent enamels in my work, I only use 80 and 150 mesh opaque enamel.  I work in very thin layers of enamel.  The enamel thickness never exceeds the thickness of the copper that I work on.  The copper I use is .072 - .075 of an inch thick.  Some of the colors I use have lower softening points than others.  Care must be taken to apply the softer colors last, so they will not burn out.

     When I want to make a horizon, whether it be water or land, I use a straight edge 'bridge'.  A ruler or any other kind of straight edge is elevated slightly over the enamel piece using two pieces of flat wood of the same thickness.  It is elevated so that the unfired enamel is not disturbed.  The enamel is sifted right over the bridge.  The bridge is removed, exposing the sifted color, which now has a very straight edge on one side of the color.

     I use 150 mesh enamel to create tree or brush foliage.  First a thin layer of opaque blues are sifted to make a sky background and then fired.  If the tree foliage is to be effective, the darkest green value in 80 mesh enamel should be lightly sifted in a mass area, over the blue background in the sky.  Next, lighter shades of green in 150 mesh powder are applied over the darker green (we call it 'plopping').  By manipulating your hand in a swiveling motion, the 'plops' will create a more natural leafy pattern, breaking up during the firing and allowing some background color to peek through.  A second application and firing may be required.  150 mesh enamel applied over unfired enamel powder creates an interesting effect.  Practice or experimentation may be necessary.  Use simple themes at first, on a 3" x 4" or 4" x 5" piece of copper.     

 

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