Zephyr Ballet

Plate

Bowl

Tray

Snowflakes

Whimsy

Jo Michael Natko
Both Josephine “Jo” Natko and her husband, Michael, were prize-winning enamelists who frequently participated in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Annual Exhibition of Work by Cleveland Artists and Craftsmen, popularly known as “the May Show.”  Jo’s work – initially her ceramics and later her enamels – was regularly featured in this exhibition between 1944 and 1950 and then again between 1952 and 1955. Michael’s work was shown in the May Show in 1949 and 1950 and between 1952 and 1955.  Both Jo and Michael won honorable mentions, prizes, or special awards in these immensely popular annual exhibitions.

Jo and Michael Natko were childhood sweethearts.  Born in Ohio, they grew up as neighbors and were married in 1933, shortly after Jo graduated from high school.  About that time, they went on a fateful cruise in the Caribbean with several other young couples.  When their sailboat began to take on water, they were stranded on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  To earn a living, Jo began to paint watercolors of the local scenery and Michael made seashell frames for her compositions.  When World War II broke out, they returned to Cleveland and, with her new-found interest in art, Jo enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Art as a scholarship student.  She graduated in 1946.  Although Michael was working in a defense plant at the time, Jo shared what she learned every day with him as they began to embark on their career in enameling together.

The work included in the annual May Shows was always produced and signed separately by either Jo or Michael Natko.  However, after 1954, they frequently collaborated.  As an article published that year in the Cleveland Press stated, “It took two embattled years, they say, before they perfected the routine they now follow.  They collaborate on every piece they do.  Today their design has a smoothness making it hard to believe it’s not the work of just one person.”  Another article from the period described their collaborative process in greater detail.  “Michael starts off with a sheet of copper on which he draws the shape of the design.  He makes the bowls by spinning them on a lathe which gives more fluency of form, he feels, than buying a stock shape….He then puts on the background color which he fires.  Then Jo takes over on the design using a brush or dry method of enameling or a combination of both…She is inspired by things around her – grasses and weeds in the fields or fruit from the trees in the back yard.”

Besides the Cleveland Museum of Art’s May Show, Jo and Michael Natko’s work was juried into exhibitions at the Everson and the Butler.  It was also included in the important 1950 exhibition History of Enamels in Pittsburgh.  Their work is in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Everson and the W. W. Carpenter Enamel Foundation.

Of the five Natko pieces in the Enamel Arts Foundation collection, two are signed “Jo Natko” – the green bowl and the plate produced for Potter and Mellen, the high-end design store in Cleveland –  and three are signed just “Natko,” suggesting that they were produced as a collaboration between husband and wife.