Plaque

Parker, James
An inventive jeweler as well as a highly skilled enamelist, James A. Parker earned his living throughout most of his professional life teaching English at San Diego County’s Grossmont High School.  From the 1950s to the early 1970s, he was also a widely respected member of the Allied Craftsmen of San Diego, one of Southern California’s most prestigious organizations.  An outgrowth of the city’s Allied Artists’ Council, this invitational group supported the field by staging spring exhibitions at San Diego’s Fine Arts Gallery (now the San Diego Museum of Art) and holiday sales in Balboa Park’s Spanish Village.

In addition to receiving local accolades throughout his career, Parker began to develop in the early 1950s a national reputation for the originality of his work.  In 1956 he was included in Craftsmanship in a Changing World, the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, and in 1968 he was featured in the Pasadena Art Museum’s California Design Ten.

According to a 1951 article in San Diego Magazine, Parker first encountered modernist jewelry in London in 1939 when he purchased a Georg Jensen ring.  Inspired to make his own jewelry by this example of Scandinavian modern design, Parker produced what decorative arts scholar Toni Greenbaum has described as, “among the most eccentric pieces to emerge from the modernist jewelry movement.”  Greenbaum also suggests that Parker may have been influenced by the work of the northern California studio jeweler Margaret de Patta, whose avant-garde forms were inspired by the European modernist sculptor László Moholy-Nagy with whom she studied in Chicago.

Parker was first introduced to a modernist approach to enameling through his friendship with Jackson and Ellamarie Woolley, fellow members of San Diego’s Allied Craftsmen.  In his rings, cufflinks, tie bars, and brooches of the 1950s and early 1960s, Parker occasionally used enamel as well as semi-precious stones to enliven his spare geometric designs.  However, by the late 1960s and 1970s he had begun to explore enameling as an independent medium, producing a series of wall-mounted plaques using enamel colors and free-form metal shapes to create inventive abstract compositions in glass and metal.

In addition to being an inventive jeweler and enamelist, James Parker was a hugely enthusiastic collector of work – particularly enamels -- by his San Diego friends and colleagues.  Shortly after he passed away, his wife donated his collection to the Wichita Center for the Arts where they now form one of the largest and most significant collections of postwar enamels in this country.