Born in Tamaroa, Illinois in 1906, Arthur Ames moved during his childhood to Ontario, California where he attended both elementary and secondary school. He received his undergraduate training at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and taught design at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles for seventeen years. Trained in a wide variety of artistic disciplines, Ames, along with his wife Jean, produced paintings, sculpture, prints, ceramics, tapestries, murals, mosaics, and tile decorations throughout his long and richly productive career. Enameling was, however, their preferred medium.
The Ames’s fascination with enameling began in 1941 when they saw an exhibition of the work of Karl Drerup at Scripps College where Jean Ames taught. Largely self-taught – through trial and error and by reading the few technical books available at the time -- they began enameling in earnest in 1948 after attending a brief workshop offered at Scripps by the ceramist Rick Petterson.
Inspired in part by the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso and the stained-glass-like compositions of Georges Rouault, Arthur Ames’s earliest enamels of the late 1940s and early 1950s were figurative. However, over time, he became interested in abstraction and his enamel panels became increasingly formal and geometric. Rich, vibrant color typifies his work of the 1950s and early 1960s. During the last seven years of his life – 1968 to 1975 – Arthur Ames created relatively large abstractions by assembling separate enamel panels and sculptural forms into large cohesive compositions. These were among the most innovative works the artist ever produced.
Arthur Ames’s enamels were featured in several important early exhibitions including the watershed Enamel: A Historic Survey to the Present Day, held in 1954 at the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, the precursor to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and Objects USA, which toured this country and Europe after its initial presentation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts in 1969.