Crowned Figure

Lily Pond


Winter, Thelma Frazier
The Cleveland-based artist Thelma Frazier Winter is best known for her monumental clay sculpture, hand-built forms of all sizes, designed in a richly expressive modernist style.  In these works, which frequently depict idealized human figures and animals, vivid polychrome glazes enliven the artist’s highly imaginative compositions.

Thelma Winter’s work, like that of her fellow ‘Cleveland School’ colleagues Viktor Schreckengost, Waylande Gregory, and her husband Edward Winter, was strongly influenced by early 20th-century Viennese design innovations. The sense of humor or whimsy apparent in her work, along with her interest in figurative subjects and animals, stylized compositions, and her use of colorful glazes to enrich her powerful clay sculpture, all underscore her indebtedness to the Wiener Werkstätte tradition she was exposed to through her European-trained teachers at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

A well-respected educator and leader in the mid 20th-century ceramics field, Thelma Winter published The Art and Craft of Ceramic Sculpture in 1973, introducing a generation of American artists to figurative clay sculpture.

The artist’s husband, Edward Winter, whom she married in 1939, was among the leading figures in the contemporary enamels field.  In the mid 1950s, Thelma Winter decided to add enameling to her wide repertoire of materials and techniques. Over the next two decades she produced a large body of work in enamel including plates, bowls, and wall-mounted plaques.

However, unlike her husband’s work, which was usually abstract, Thelma Winter’s enamels were loosely rendered in a broad painterly manner and often depicted figures or images of animals, birds, or fish.

Throughout the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, the Winters worked together on a number of large enamel murals, commissions for local churches and public buildings.  Edward Winter described their collaborative process in his 1958 book Enamel Art on Metals: “My first experience with church enamels was in 1955 when, at the request of architect Ray J. Kloski, my wife, Thelma, and I were invited to design and execute enameled steel mural decorations for the Bethany Lutheran Church of Ashtabula, Ohio.  Through Thelma’s knowledge of and interest in Biblical figures, she assumed the creative designing of these sectional decorations.  In her design she used a system of dynamic symmetry that directed the eye of the observer to follow the lines of the horizontal and diagonals throughout all sections of the decoration.  The executing of the work was, of course, in my domaine.”    They also regularly collaborated on smaller functional and decorative items sold commercially through specialty shops and department store throughout the country.  Without a doubt, Edward Winter’s passion for his medium had a profound influence on Thelma Winter’s work in enamel.

Thelma Winter was born in 1903 in Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Encouraged by her mother from an early age, she studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art with Julius Mihalik, a design instructor and former head of the Royal Hungarian School of Industrial Art in Budapest.  She also studied ceramics with the eminent ceramist Guy Cowan.  She worked for Cowan Pottery from 1929 to 1931, designing a wide variety of functional and ornamental ware in a spare, modernist style. After receiving a B.S. in art education from Case Western Reserve University in 1935, she taught at the Laurel School in Cleveland (1939 – 1945) and at the Cleveland Institute of Art (1945 – 1950).  A regular exhibitor in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s May Shows, she was awarded in 1939 the prestigious first prize for sculpture in the Syracuse Museum of Fine Art’s National Ceramics Exhibition.   Her work, both her ceramics and her enamels, was widely exhibited throughout her life.