Antonia Holding Schwed was a master of the champlevé enameling technique. As she stated, “Champlevé is my favorite form of enameling. Almost anything you can draw you can etch and this means that champlevé is a technique of enormous versatility and one that enables you to transform a humble piece of copper into a fascinating work.”
She often chose animals as her subject for both their formal and their expressive potential. She said, “Many of my design themes involve animals, including insects…Animals supply endless and exciting possibilities for design for they can be used realistically, symbolically, or mystically – this latter particularly since they have such an ancient relationship with homo sapiens.”
Like many of her colleagues in the late 20th-century craft field, she was drawn to hand-crafted forms as an alternative to overly mechanized contemporary life. “I like to do everything possible by hand even if it results in a certain lack of smoothness or slickness. I steer clear of machinery whenever I can.”
Born in Staten Island, New York, Antonia Schwed moved frequently throughout her childhood with her mother Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, an accomplished mystery writer. Following studies at Barnard and Finch Colleges and work in the publishing field, she married Peter Schwed, who eventually became editor-in-chief at Simon and Schuster, and raised a family that included four children. The Schwed home was a cultural gathering place and their friends included such notable writers as David McCullough, P.G. Woodhouse, and Christopher Isherwood.
After studying jewelry with Margaret Sussman at the Craft Students League in New York, Schwed developed a keen interest in enamel. Having mastered the champlevé process, she became an influential educator and taught enameling at the Craft Students League and subsequently at the 92nd Street Y in New York.
A prominent leader in her field, she was a founding member of the Enamel Guild Northeast and her work was featured in numerous exhibitions at the Spring Street Enamels Gallery, Aaron Faber Gallery, and at other galleries in New York and elsewhere.
She worked in a wide range of formats including jewelry, two-dimensional plaques and panels, and three-dimensional sculpture, often combining champlevé enamel with other materials such as wood in complex, multi-faceted compositions.