The eBay seller, "groovyartlover" got me started on sleuthing. I was amazed by how many people knew C. Jeré work. Finally, I stumbled upon a blog by Sean Yashar regarding the sculptor(s) C. Jeré. His post was very good background to this post, and closer to the facts that I knew through my mother, so I am sure both he and I would welcome you to read it via his link to the right.
I've discovered that the "sculptor," C. Jeré, has quite a following, who most collectors assume is a single prolific artist working in metal. As Sean Yashar points out, "...there was never an artist named C. Jeré at all; the name C. Jeré is a pseudonym front for a large manufacturer of metal based decorative accessories!" The name, C. Jeré, comes from the combining of the names of the Artisan House co-founders, Jerry Fels and Kurt (Curtis) Freiler. This may be legend to some, but my mother, a protogé and good friend of Jerry Fels, says this is in fact true. Much in the way that Simon and Garfunkel wrote "Feeling Groovy" for laughs, never intending it to be so successful, the french accent was added to Jerry's name as a result of two artsy friends laughing and brainstorming. They formed Artisan House and used the name C. Jeré to represent all of the artists working there, Jerry Fels being the key artist during the 60's and 70's.
Sean Yashar, in his blog made the comment: "While many of the items produced by Artisan House are indeed "art", the goal of artisan house was never really about fine art, but more about commerce. Some of the items produced by "C. Jeré" are really quite unique and stunning and do rise to the level of fine art and high design, but lots of the items produced were more in the line of 'dogs playing poker'." It is here that my mother, BJ Keith steps forward, for although she had her start with the Gourmet Kitchen Utensils, it is her non-objective fine art for which she is most known (or unknown, as the case may be--and the point of this blog site).
Jerry Fels was an inspiration and my mother's mentor and good friend. His passing last year brought her great sadness. As his protoge, beginning in the late 1970's BJ Keith grew from designer to top designer when Fels moved to Colorado. For the past two decades, her work dominated Artisan House's line up, and brought in more than 50% of the revenue of the entire company.
If you look at the company's artwork today, 99% of the contemporary, abstract, indoor/outdoor, table art and free standing sculpture are her designs. Ironically, although she is mostly known for her non-objective artwork, she received her start with the oversized gourmet kitchen utensil line, which Artisan House still carries after 30 years! Her greatest challenge in working for such a company was/is how to retain her integrity as a fine artist while being forced to the constraints of the corporate commercial bottom line. I think this is an issue with which most, if not all, artists have struggled: How do you be true to your art without starving and without being irresponsible in supporting your family? I believe my mother and sculptor, BJ Keith, was able to accomplish this more than many.
She served as Art Director for the company for at least a decade, teaching and helping other artists to perfect their skills, being their spokesperson and advocate to the execs, and recently retired from full-time after 30 years with the company. She still designs in her garage and contributes to the above mentioned lines.
C. Jeré & BJ Keith -- Pt. III (Original Quiet Panache Blogspot Moved to this Page)
April 22, 2008
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