Harold B. "Bill" Helwig is among the most imaginative and technically-adept artists working in the enameling field today. The tender beauty of his poetic compositions is matched only by the virtuosity with which he executes them.
Born in Wellington, Kansas in 1938, Bill Helwig spent part of his childhood with his grandparents who encouraged the young artist's thirst for knowledge, urging him to constantly explore because "there is always more to know." In 1956, Helwig enrolled as a premed major at Fort Hays Kansas State College. However, by 1958 he had changed his major to art. After studying with Joel Moss, a former student of the preeminent American watercolorist John Marin, Helwig began to pursue watercolor as his principal interest. In 1959, he was introduced to enameling while assisting the jeweler Deirdre Burant prepare for her master’s thesis exhibition. Learning on his own through trial and error and by using Kenneth Bates's book Enameling Principles and Practice
, he became fascinated with the medium. After military service in Europe, where he visited art museums as often as possible, he was appointed assistant director of the Creative Craft Center at the State University of New York, Buffalo in 1964. While there he resumed enameling at the encouragement of Jean Delius, a nationally prominent metalsmith. From then on, enameling became his preferred medium.
Helwig's enamels from the late 1960s – complex compositions, executed on both three-dimensional vessels and two-dimensional plaques – frequently depict human figures in complex, highly-charged relationships. These early images in which Helwig used the venerable grisaille technique are grainier, more vaporous, and less distinct than some of his later, more clearly articulated compositions. In the 1970s, Helwig began to cut into the copper plates and plaques to create dynamic sculptural forms on which he applied his richly complex figurative imagery. Over time, his work has come to include an increasingly rich color palette and an extraordinary array of highly sophisticated techniques including basse-taille etching and impasto and camieu, two techniques used to build up the enamel surface. His devotion to the medium has led him to explore long-forgotten techniques and to use them in a fresh and original manner.
Relationships; human sexuality in its wondrous diversity; desire for the other, coupled with a quest to know oneself; and spiritual yearning, in all its traditional and distinctly nontraditional forms, are the subjects that have engaged the imagination of Harold B. Helwig for the past forty years. These interests may be seen in virtually every work produced by this masterful artist.