Born in Germany in 1904, Karl Drerup originally studied drawing and painting after leaving monastic life. While pursing advanced studies in Italy, he was drawn to the traditional craft of majolica - brightly colored earthenware, a passion that would influence his later work. Life and history pushed Karl and his wife to the Canary Islands to escape the Nazis in 1934, and it wasn’t until his arrival in New York City in 1937 that he started pursuing his interest in becoming a designer-craftsman. His first venture into the craft world was making ceramic vessels with a friend, and they quickly found a market for their work. Karl soon began teaching himself the art of enameling - applying his painter’s sensibility to enhance the craft. His skill and craftsmanship are visible in all of his endeavors.
In 1946 the head of the League of NH Craftsmen, David Campbell, enticed Karl to NH to help build the emerging organization and the greater crafts community. It was an easy choice for Karl and his wife to leave the bustling city for the rural life of Thornton, NH. Since his time in Spain and the Canary Island, the countryside had always appealed to him. In 1948 he was asked to establish an art program at Plymouth Teachers College. By the time of his departure 20 years later, Karl had created a full department with 10 faculty members and over 100 students.
All the time he was teaching he continued his enamel work, which was well suited to the cramped studio in the woods. With a minimum of equipment and space he was able create pieces that reflected both his natural environment and his background as a devoutly religious man. Rather than creating a deep, three-dimensional space as you might with paint, Karl flattened out his images and took advantage of the ornamental quality of enamel. Surfaces abound with bright blue boats and sunshine, or lively squirrels, deer and fox from top to bottom of the plate. In his religious images trees, hunters and Saint Eustis all share the same plane and delight the eye with jewel-like colors. The seductive and ornamental qualities of the melted pigments were the perfect medium for this imagery.
Karl Drerup’s paintings and drawings tell of his early training as an artist. His lines, the work of a trained draftsman, also tell Karl’s personal history. His sketchbooks abound with images of hillsides in Italy, Spain and the Canary Islands as well as pages filled with the indigenous people he shared these spaces with. Later work, such as “Gore Brook, Thornton,” depicts the beautiful landscapes of Northern NH. All of these drawings and paintings, source material for his enamels, are strikingly beautiful in their own right.
McGowan Fine Art will also host noted enamel authority, Rick McMullen, for a slide presentation on enameling techniques called “Unveiling the Mystery of Enamel.” The presentation will be on August 28 at 11 AM in the gallery and will address techniques such as plique-a-jour, basse-taille, cloisonné and more. Mr. McMullen’s professional knowledge will be edifying for antiques dealers, jewelry specialists and appraisers but enthusiasts of any level will find his clear explanations rewarding.
This show will be held in conjunction with a show of Mr. Drerup’s drawings at Plymouth State University called “Karl Drerup: A Modernist Drawn to Life.” It will run from August 14 – October 23. For more information visit http://www.plymouth.edu/gallery/category/exhibits/.