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April 22, 1918 - September 24, 2009
SEPTEMBER 24, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
DEATH OF BIG SUR ARTIST EMILE NORMAN,
SUBJECT OF 2006 PBS DOCUMENTARY
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Emile Norman, who was among the first wave of American artists in the 1940s to use plastics and epoxy resins to produce fine art sculptures, died peacefully of natural causes in Monterey, California, on September 24, 2009. He was 91.
Norman was born Emil Nomann in 1918 in San Gabriel, California. His parents were walnut ranchers and truck farmers, and throughout his career Norman would draw inspiration from the agricultural and natural surroundings of his youth. He showed artistic interest and talent at a young age but was discouraged to pursue art by his parents, a conflict that throughout his life strengthened his resolve to live a life outside the expectations or beliefs of others.
He enrolled at a local college but later reported that he lasted only one day, after an art instructor told him he was doing an assignment incorrectly. He turned to producing plastic jewelry and designing window displays for Los Angeles department stores. A clubfoot kept him out of Second World War military service, and in 1943 he went to New York. He created window displays for Bonwit Teller and other department stores, but soon his nature-themed work was featured in group shows and at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. His first solo exhibit was at the Feingarten Gallery.
Norman's work covered a broad range of media, many of which he invented himself, from jewelry to paintings and prints, sculpture, furniture, textiles and castings. Always fascinated with the transformation of the formless to the fiercely formed, he used concrete and plasters for his early sculptures and architectural wall-pieces. On a trip to Europe in the late 1940s, he discovered the earliest versions of epoxy and the path of his artistic life opened before him. He became an expert with the new "German mastic," developing techniques to produce the enormous "endomosaic" window for San Francisco's Masonic Memorial Temple on Nob Hill in 1958. He expanded his use of epoxy techniques into highly original dimensional sculpture and wood inlay creations based on natural themes and subjects. He also painted, developed innovative block print techniques, created tapestries, and cast in bronze and precious metals. His work is in private collections around the world.
In 1943 he met Brooks Clement (né Clement Bruecke), who would become his life partner and business associate. When Los Angeles began its period of rapid expansion after the war, they left the city and drove north, intending to purchase property in Mendocino. But en route they fell in love with Big Sur, and moved there in 1946. The redwood house they built, on a ridge overlooking the Pacific, would come to reflect Norman's special artistry, with every wall, table, lamp and window as carefully designed as one of his sculptures. As his career grew more successful, they would continue to add to the house. Even well in his eighties, Norman liked to tell visitors that the house "is almost finished."
Norman ended his New York career after his final show there, in 1961, and subsequently opened his own gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea. In 1963, a three-month safari in Kenya inspired many notable sculptures, prints and paintings of African birds and mammals.
In 2005, Norman created the Emile Norman Charitable Trust, a non-profit organization with the aim of preserving his artistic legacy and supporting the arts, cultural and humanitarian activities on the Monterey Peninsula and beyond.
A sixty-minute documentary about Norman, "Emile Norman: By His Own Design," was completed in 2006 and was broadcast nationally on PBS. Produced by Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker and directed by Will Parrinello, the film is a loving portrait of Norman's life and work.
One of Norman's abiding passions was the music of J. S. Bach. In Bach, Norman saw a kindred spirit, a careful designer of art in which formal meticulousness serves a flowing vision of natural beauty and purpose. For over sixty years, Norman faithfully attended the annual Carmel Bach Festival. One of Big Sur's last remaining pioneering "elders," Norman was predeceased by Clement, who died of cancer in 1973, and is survived by three sisters and five nieces and nephews.
Memorial donations may be sent to the Emile Norman Charitable Trust, 45955 Pfeiffer Ridge Road, Big Sur, California, 93920.