Birds of Boehm
One of the most successful artists in the world of ceramics is a man who is little known in the US. His art is part of the permanent collections at the Vatican Museum (Italy), Buckingham Palace (England), The Great Hall (China), The Abdine Palace (Egypt), Hermitage Museum (Russia), the Royal Palace (Sweden) and many other locations. His masterpieces are included in many of the most famous art galleries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. The artist’s public admirers have swelled over the years because of his famous ceramic birds, but with the addition of art focused on flowers and wild animals his fame has spread even further. His name is Edward Marshall Boehm.
Often referred to as the Father of American Porcelain Art Sculptors, Boehm has an unusual life story, which took him from the confines of a military school for orphan boys to the top of the art world. He has proven to be a man of ingenuity, patience, and a good bit of luck. This WITNESS POST tells part of his story.
Edward M. Boehm (pronounced BEAM) was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1913. His parents were unstable, as his father left the house before the baby was born. Young Edward, nicknamed “Ted,” was raised by his mother, Elsie Boehm, and a loose collection of neighbors. When Ted was seven years old, his mother suddenly died. He moved in with neighbors, who did not know what to do: they had no way to contact the father and they did not know the whereabouts of Ted’s next of kin. The neighbors decided to enroll Ted as a boarding student at a military academy for orphans, called McDonogh School. 
The boarding school was named for John McDonogh, who had died in 1850. A native of Baltimore, he made his fortune as a slave trader and sugarcane broker in New Orleans. He never married, and just before he died he freed his slaves. At the time of his death, McDonogh was one of the wealthiest land owners in Louisiana, Mississippi and in the US. As the Civil War broke out McDonogh’s will was being contested in New Orleans. Years later, after the legal wrangling over his assets, a small portion of the estate was designated to found “a farm school for orphan boys” in Baltimore. The school was built in 1873. Originally established as an all-white, military school for poor boys, many of whom were orphans due to the Civil War, the students were expected to work the farm in exchange for their books, instruction, room and board.
By 1920 McDonogh had a reputation for strict discipline, solid fundamental instruction, and practical exercises. At the time, the campus consisted of 840 acres of pastoral landscape, farm land, and horse pastures, as well as rustic dormitories, school buildings and playing fields.
Forty-seven years after its founding, the young orphan, Ted Boehm arrived at school, along with 114 fellow students. The school principal, Morgan Bowman, resigned within a few months and the Board was looking for a successor. They hired William Childs, a banker by training, who upgraded the program and tightened the finances. Ted Boehm spent much of his time at the horse barn, along with his school mates, who were in the skillful hands of the riding instructors, Willis and Robert Lynch.
Ted Boehm was as a scholarship student, as they all were at the time. He boarded in a dorm on campus for nine years. His surrogate parents were the teachers and dorm parents. Along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, the students were taught to plow fields, grow crops, ride horses, replace a car tire, and raise rabbits. They also wore military uniforms, marched in formation, and learned to shoot firearms. In the process the faculty instilled in the students discipline, respect, and training. About 30% of the students went on to college, while the others were prepared for apprenticeships in a trade.
When Louis “Doc” Lamborn became the Principal in 1926, paying day students were added to the program for the first time along with a broader curricular and extracurricular activities. New offerings in art, drafting, debate, and sports were high on the list. The students also learned key lessons in safety, as the west wing of New Hall, burned to the ground in 1928. No one was hurt in the fire and reconstruction was started immediately.
In 1929, at the age of 16, Ted Boehm graduated from McDonogh. He had learned a lot about raising animals, riding horses, and working the land. He also enjoyed shop and art. Keeping close to his “farm school” roots, Boehm matriculated at the University of Maryland in College Park, where he studied animal husbandry and farm management.
Horse and Rider
Not much is known about Boehm’s college years, but the depths of the Depression weighed on everyone, no matter their lot in life. We do know that after he graduated from Maryland, he was accepted as an apprentice by Herbert Haseltine. The apprenticeship, pulling from Boehm’s love of animals and art, shaped the rest of his life. Haseltine, a French/American painter turned sculptor, was well known for his bronze statues of horses and equestrians. Under Haseltine’s tutelage, Boehm became curious about the similarities and differences among casting statuary, carving sculpture, and firing porcelain. Boehm researched and practiced his interests in the studio, paying particular attention to making the animals as life-like as possible. During the brief apprenticeship, Boehm also spent three days a week studying draftsmanship.
For the decade before World War II, Ted Boehm left the art world and managed a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Called Longacres Farm, it specialized in Guernsey cattle and Boehm’s animal husbandry and farm management skills came in handy.
During WWII Boehm enlisted and he was stationed in New York. For most of his service he was in charge of the rehabilitation program for the Air Force in Pauling, New York, where he helped returning veterans regain mobility after injury.
Pursuit of Porcelain
In 1944 as the War was winding down, Boehm met, dated and married Helen Franzolin. Helen became his muse, his motivator, his marketer and his business partner. The couple moved to Trenton, New Jersey, where Boehm returned to the studio. Through exhaustive trial and error, Ted Boehm worked out some of the inconsistencies from firing and painting objects in order to create a more pleasing and long lasting sculpture. He spent the next six years working on his craft and perfecting the “old world techniques” of porcelain.
In 1950 the young couple started Boehm Studio, focusing exclusively on porcelain. 
Boehm explained his choice of porcelain as the medium for his art:
“Porcelain is a permanent creation. If properly processed and fired, its colors will never change; and it can be subjected to extreme temperatures without damage. It is a medium in which one can portray the everlasting beauty of form and color of wildlife and nature.”
At the time, most of the art that focused on birds found inspiration from John J. Audubon. Audubon was an avid hunter, who shot his prey so that he could stuff them and draw them. His technique, although over 100 years old, was the most common way to study birds. The animals were framed in a still life picture, two dimensional and perpetual. There were few life-like qualities to his drawings.
Audubon would prop up his specimen as best he could. Some of his drawings show the birds posing at odd angles and positions. It appears as if he had not carefully watched nor studied their habits in the wild.
Boehm took a different tack altogether: instead of killing his subjects and drawing them as a still life, he studied them in the wild. He kept careful records of their natural movements. He also raised birds near his studio. He kept a large collection of exotic birds in extensive aviaries and tropical houses which he meticulously maintained at his home in Trenton. These birds became the source of inspiration for his sculptures.
Boehm’s animal husbandry came in handy alongside his art. The Boehms successfully bred many of the rare bird species: approximately 12 species were recognized by the Audubon Society as the first to be bred in captivity anywhere in the world. For these breeding successes Boehm was awarded a number of commemorative medals and plaques, including some by the UK-based society, the Foreign Bird League.
His art was remarkable in how life-like it was. As Frank Cosentino, former President of the E. M. Boehm, Inc., explained, Boehm revolutionized hard-paste porcelain sculpture: “Prior to Edward Marshall Boehm’s venture in 1950s, few, if any, American firms had ever made hard-paste porcelain sculpture that successfully compared with the fine centuries-old production of Europe and Asia.” 
Years earlier, Cosentino had explained, “The image and likeness of God’s world is seen at once in the work of Edward Marshall Boehm. It is not an elusive and esoteric expression like so much of contemporary art. Clarity is its first quality. Its grandeur is in its perfection. It is a disciplined art, mastering the demands of the ancient and distinguished craft of porcelain making.” 
For nearly two decades the Boehm Studio expanded its reach to porcelain art of all kinds. The Studio produced statues of Bighorn Sheep, Elephants, Moose, Cougars, Rhinoceros, as well as more toy-like Foxes, Koala, and Pandas.
The favorites between the Boehms, however, were the birds. The collection is extraordinary. The Boehms remained together until Ted Boehm died from a heart attack in 1969. He was 56 years old. His widow, Helen, died in 2010, at the age of 89.
Boehm Studios was accorded its highest honor in 1992, when a wing of the Vatican Museum in Rome was after Edward M. Boehm! This was the first time in its 500-year history that the Vatican had named one of its museums for an American. The twelve other museums are all named for popes and members of royal families.
Today Boehm porcelains are in the permanent collections of over one hundred thirty-four institutions globally, including the following:
- White House, Washington, D.C.
- Elysee Palace, Paris, France
- Buckingham Palace, London, England
- TheVatican Museum, Vatican City, Italy
- Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
- John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
- New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- The Smithsonian Institution
Not surprisingly, there is an excellent collection of Ted Boehm’s porcelain’s which he donated to McDonogh School. He never forgot his humble beginnings, which may have contributed in surprising ways to his success as an artist in the world of ceramics.
Below are two stores about Edward Marshall Boehm: one as told by the Boehm Studios and the other by Sharon Lee Parker. At the end of these stories is a list of the best known collections of Boehm porcelains, according to the company records.
Edward Marshall Boehm (1913-1969)
The Boehm Studios have joined a long list of illustrious international porcelain names that have passed through an ancient history that reaches back 2,000 years. The studios’ name derived from its talented founder, Edward Marshall Boehm, who died in 1969. Since then, it has been carried forward by his wife and business partner, Helen Boehm, and a skilled staff of dedicated artists and craftsmen.
In 1950, Edward and Helen Boehm started a basement studio in Trenton, New Jersey, ceramic center of our country since the middle of the last century. Neither was trained in the disciplines of porcelain making. Edward Boehm knew nothing about ceramics and had little formal art education. Helen Boehm was not trained for the marketing and promotional challenges which lay ahead of her.
What makes the success of Boehm all the more remarkable is that most of the fine porcelain artists of history worked with established studios (some of them subsidized) and concentrated primarily on the creative work, the sculptural prototypes. Supporting staffs were present and skilled, qualities and formulas tested and established, reputations well-known, markets oriented.
When the Boehms started their studio, Edward Boehm, the naturalist-farmer, had only an innate talent as a sculptor and craftsman, which was joined with an intense desire to excel in any endeavor he attempted. Helen Boehm was the perfect complement, a dynamic, energetic, natural tactician whose inexperience often proved to be an asset. It was she who forged brilliant promotional and marketing concepts during the first few years, when immediate acceptance was necessary if the studio was to survive.
Sharon walked in to buy a porcelain rose and ended up saving the company.
When Sharon Lee Parker returned from the Vatican in May, she beamed with pride. A special meeting with Pope Benedict XVI had been arranged so that she could present the Vatican Museum with a 17-piece Presepio of nativity figurines and a special gift for the Pontiff’s desk—a porcelain bust of Pope John Paul II created for his impending beatification.
Boehm Porcelain’s sculptures have been presented to the Vatican by U.S. presidents. Muted Swans, valued at $150,000, sits outside the Sistine Chapel. Two Vatican Museum rooms are named for Edward Marshall and Helen Boehm, who donated funds for their creation.
Founded in 1950, in his basement studio in Trenton, New Jersey, by the late Edward Marshall Boehm, the business was about to be moved to China three years ago. The story of her saving the business is as heart warming as Sharon’s saving herself from cancer at the same time.
“I walked in to buy the Hope Porcelain Rose, and I bought the company,” she said.
“I happened to be in New Jersey. A doctor who was fighting cancer wanted the rose to present to his caregiver. I’ve coached cancer patients since 2004. …”
They were going to take the company to China. They didn’t care about the brand.
The memory brought emotion to Sharon’s face. She was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s disease and thyroid cancer in Houston, Texas. She also had a benign tumor on her brain. When her doctor transferred to the Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, Sharon followed.
“There was nothing better than having a Boehm rose next to the bed. You never have to water it,” she reminisced. During her chemotherapy in Houston, Sharon’s husband George brought her a Boehm porcelain rose.
“Boehm Porcelain is an American legacy spreading peace and beauty throughout the world. Boehm has been in Trenton for 62 years. There were many artisans in the Trenton area at one time. The kilns that heat these at 2,400 degrees are so big they cannot be moved,” explains Sharon.
With such passion and loyalty for the company, it’s no wonder Boehm has made an about-turn back to success.
“We have a treasure. Where are our children and grandchildren going to work if we outsource everything? Boehm Porcelain is a symbol of what is the finest, what is considered the finest American art sculpture in the country.”
Porcelains made in the Trenton factory are on display in 130 museums: the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, the Hermitage Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum to name a few. They are on sale at retailers like Nieman-Marcus in Palm Beach.
Sharon met her husband, George Parker, when she was 9 years old. George’s family owned the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York. “He was skiing without poles when I first saw him.” That impressed her, and they married when she was 19.
George studied architecture and eventually took over running the family hotel. They greeted thousands of guests and headliners every week.
Sharon and George have thrown themselves into the company. They rescued it and are revitalizing it as an American artistic treasure. “When we took over, there were four people working there. Now we have 20 and hire more part-timers around Christmas time. They were going to take the company to China. They didn’t care about the brand,” George said.
The Boehm collection includes florals, birds, religious objects, home collectibles like three dimensional plates, fish, and butterflies, and various wild animals.
Boehm is producing a Pure Jardin collection of delicate floral designs in pristine white. The pure-white porcelain is made by using organic algae to bind the porcelain, enabling detailed sculpting. The algae are burned away and dissipates during the firing process. The petals are thin, translucent, and luminous. The process can take weeks of intricate craftsmanship.
Patriot bald eagles appear to leap from their perches. Amazing Boehm creations of form and motion are true to the founder’s credo that “Boehm will create only true porcelain sculptures that are faithful to nature—perfect in every detail. No exceptions, no excuses, no maybes.”
An eagle porcelain with patriotic American flag was presented to the president to decorate the White House.
The legacy of Edward Marshall Boehm, continued by his late wife Helen, is alive and well. The torch has been passed to two loyal, steadfast, patriotic Americans, George and Sharon Lee Parker. “We call ourselves the ‘Beam Team.’ We have fabulous artisans. Everything is handmade. They are all proud Americans,” Sharon said.
Boehm Porcelain is more than artistry. It is tradition and pride in craftsmanship that reflects a nation’s commitment to beautiful objects that radiate love and peace through symbolism. It is an American icon saved from extinction by two special people.
Where Are Collections of Boehm Porcelains featured?
The White House, Washington, D.C.
Buckingham Palace, London, England
Elysee Palace, Paris, France
The Vatican, Vatican City, Italy
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Tel Aviv Museum, Israel
Ha’ Aretz Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel
Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile, Alabama
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada
Kyung Mu Dai, Seoul, Korea
Royal Palace, Stockholm, Sweden
Liverpool Museum, England
City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on- Trent, England
City Museum, Worcester, England
American Embassy, London, England
American Embassy, Copenhagen, Netherlands
American Embassy, Rothschild Mansion, Paris, France
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey
Los Angeles County Museum, California
Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Texas
Brooks Memorial Art Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee
Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana
Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
Louisiana Arts & Science Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
Dallas Museum of Natural History, Texas
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, Texas
Syracuse University Museum, New York
Wichita Art Museum, Kansas
Wichita State University, Kansas
Governor’s Mansion, Raleigh, North Carolina
Washington County Museum, Hagerstown, Maryland
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina
Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego, California
Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, Massachusetts
Liberty Village, Flemington, New Jersey
Houston Museum of Natural Science, Texas
American Camellia Society, Fort Valley, Georgia
Truman Library, Independence, Missouri
Blair House, Washington, D.C.
The University of Texas, San Antonio
Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville, Florida
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri
State Historical Museum, Jackson, Mississippi
The Birks Museum, Milliken University, Decatur, Illinois
Great Hall, Peking, China
Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts, Moscow, Russia
Singapore Art Museum
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Abdine Palace, Cairo, Egypt
University of Richmond, Virginia
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida
LaGrange College, Georgia
Newark Museum, New Jersey
John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell Foundation, Mt. Vernon, Illinois
Wilson Art Galleries, Anderson, Indiana
Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan
Museum of the Plains, Perryton, Texas
Concordia College, River Forest, Illinois
The Hun School, Princeton, New Jersey
The Evansville Museum of Arts & Sciences, Indiana
Central National Bank, San Angelo, Texas
Scheie Eye Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Buffalo Museum of Science, New York
Fort Smith Art Center, Arkansas
Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Museum of Science & Space Transit Planetarium, Miami, Florida
Children’s Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana
Danville Museum, Virginia
Florida House, Washington, D.C.
The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
College of Notre Dame, Baltimore, Maryland
Fairhope Public Library, Alabama
The Fine Arts Museum of the South at Mobile, Alabama
Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
El Paso Museum of Art, Texas
St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee
Goldsmith Civic Garden Center, Memphis, Tennessee
Chicago Horticultural Society, Botanic Gardens, Illinois
Jacksonville Children’s Hospital, Florida
Jacksonville Museum of Arts and Sciences, Florida
Terrebonne Historical and Cultural Society, Houma, Louisiana
Pennsylvania State University, Altoona, Pennsylvania
Saint Lawrence Rehabilitation Center, Lawrenceville, New Jersey
St. Peter’s College, Jersey City, New Jersey
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Royal Palace, Monaco
Tokyo National Museum, Japan
The Museum of Arts and Sciences, Daytona Beach, Florida
Mobile City Museum, Alabama
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
St. John Medical Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Museum of Art, Oklahoma City
Delaware Technical and Community College Museum, Georgetown, Delaware
Gulf Coast Art Association, Biloxi, Mississippi
Tampa Museum, Florida
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
Trenton City Museum, New Jersey
Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, Audubon, Pennsylvania
Rahr-West Museum, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Henry B. Plant Museum, Tampa, Florida
Jessie c. Wilson Art Galleries, Anderson College, Indiana
McDonogh School, Owings Mills, Maryland
University of Osteopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, Des Moines, Iowa
Our Lady of the Lakes Regional Medical Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas
Wichita Art Association, Inc., Kansas
Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas
Carson County Square House Museum, Panhandle, Texas
The University of Utah, Salt Lake City
Capital Children’s Museum, Washington, D.C.
Nyack Hospital, New York
Historical Society of Rockland County, New York City, New York
Buffalo Zoological Gardens, New York
The Tarble Arts Center, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois
Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina
Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Deborah Heart and Lung Center, Browns Mills, New Jersey
Memorial Hospital of Burlington County, Mount Holly, New Jersey
Center for Positive Thinking, Pawling, New York
Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack, New Jersey 
 UK born Curator of birds, Charles Everitt. His book deals mainly with the soft-billed birds in the Boehm collection, but also includes some of the extensive numbers of species of Parrot-like birds, Seed-eating birds, Waterfowl and Gallinaceous birds.
 Cosentino, F. Boehm’s birds; the porcelain art of Edward Marshall Boehm (New York: F. Fell, 1960) pp. 7 – 8.