I’ve been collecting copper jewelry for about 10 years now, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to write a story on Renoir of California (1946-1964) for the Costume Jewelry Collectors International’s website.
For research, I spoke to the sons of both founders: Peter Fels, the son of Jerry Fels, and Robbie Freiler, son of Curtis “Kurt” Freiler. I also talked with Dr. Barry Harwood, curator of decorative arts for the Brooklyn Museum of Art; Matthew Burkholz, of Route 66 West vintage store and author of Copper Art Jewelry: A Different Lustre; and Rick Benveniste, who worked with both Fels and Freiler.
I hope you’ll read the piece in its entirety, but here are a few fun facts I discovered while writing the story:
- Jerry Fels and Robbie Freiler married a set of sisters.
- Enamel gets fired at 1,700 degrees. The enamel designs were overseen by Curtis Tann, who is considered an important African-American artisan.
- Kurt Freiler lived to be 103.
- The Glendale factory had an enormous, walk-in safe that the metal was kept in. The building is no longer Renoir/Matisse, but the safe is still there.
- Despite its association with the California Casual movement, Renoir/Matisse was sold all over the country, and is as commonly found on the East Coast as the West Coast.
During our interview, Matt told me Renoir/Matisse is “a niche market for redheads and people who love midcentury modern style,” and I was like, “Man, he is like psychic!“
Guilty as charged.