Welcome to a new series about the art porcelain studios that flourished during the 1970s and 80s but ultimately succumbed to the vastly different collector market of the 1990s. Unfortunately, because more and more of the original artists and collectors are no longer with us, buyers today may be unfamilar with the studios that once produced these works of art. It’s hoped that this series will shine some light on these “lost” studios.
This first post will focus on the one studio that actually began in England but ended in the United States; the other firms spent their entire production lives in either one country or the other. Bronn, however, was a unique case in more ways than one.
In the early 1970s Brian Ormerod, a talented sculptor born in Accrington (Lancashire) paired with the equally talented painter Simon Joyner as two people with a shared hobby. In a 1983 newspaper interview Joyner spoke of how Brian had a small kiln in his bedroom at home, which they’d use to fire their first pieces. After a while they decided to team up in a more official way in order to sell their work at retail, and formed Bronn Fine China Ltd., the name being a combination of their first names: Br(ian) and (Sim)on plus an extra N added as a finishing touch.
One of their customers in the mid-1970s was Ira Jacobson, owner of Brielle Galleries in New Jersey who by that time had become the largest retailer of Cybis and Boehm porcelain. Brielle was looking to get directly into the booming art porcelain market as a producer rather than only as a retailer, and because a favored Bronn subject was Western Americana they seemed like a perfect fit. Jacobson and his business partners Ray Blackman and Stephen Weston approached Ormerod and Joyner about moving to New Jersey and establishing a new studio there; because Bronn Fine China already had a following, they wanted to retain the existing name. Brian and Simon agreed, and in July 1979 Bronn of America was registered as a New Jersey corporation. The company bought a small house on Higgins Avenue, a short distance from the Brielle Galleries store, and renovated it into a studio. The kilns were housed in the garage, the lower floor rooms were converted into artist workspaces, and the two artists themselves lived upstairs. The close proximity to the store meant that collectors could actually be taken on personal tours of the working studio.
Brielle Galleries was, of course, the showroom for Bronn and new introductions were always featured in the store’s semi-annual color catalog A Quest For Excellence right along with the established larger studios. Bronn pieces were also advertised in the same high-end magazines where Brielle also placed ads for such brands as Boehm, Cybis, Connoisseur, Waterford, Baccarat and Buccellati. The prices of Bronn pieces were comparable to the other major studios but with one difference: There were no open (non-limited) editions.
The Bronn studio operated for slightly more than a decade; by 1990 it was clear that the market had dramatically changed and that Brielle Galleries’ retail division was struggling. Bronn ceased retail production in the early 1990s and in the early 2000s the kilns were donated to a local nonprofit art facility. Brian Ormerod returned to his hometown of Accrington in England; it’s unclear whether Simon Joyner did the same. Ira Jacobson’s memoir of his time at Brielle Galleries mentions that in the studio’s final years it was managed by Stephen Weston as “modeler and painter” but doesn’t say when the original artists left.
Bronn Fine China Ltd. (England)
To date I have only found three examples of the work of the original English studio, all of them framed porcelain plaques and all sold at the same auction sale in 2014. Size was cited as being 11″ high and 14″ wide although not specified whether that referred to only the plaque or to the framed piece overall. All were painted and signed by Simon Joyner.
Unfortunately there was no closeup photo of the backstamp but it was cited in all the listings as being in this format: Bronn Fine China Ltd., Made in England, Edition Limited to [#], No. [plaque number], Handmade and Painted, Entitled [plaquename], Simon Joyner.
A view of the reverse showing the framing construction and how the backstamp was viewable.
If anyone has examples of Bronn Fine China plaques or sculptures and would like to contribute a photo to this post, there is a direct-contact form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.
This is the Bronn of America backstamp. Bronn of America sculptures do not show the sculpture name on the piece itself, although the ones with an accompanying wood base sometimes had the name on a brass plaque in front.
The accompanying Bronn of America Certificate of Authenticity always shows the sculpture name. Of course that means that if a base and the COA went missing over time, subsequent sellers/owners weren’t likely to know what the sculpture’s name is.
All of the sculptures shown below were made at Bronn of America unless noted otherwise in the caption. Names are correct exactly as shown, verified by actual Bronn/Brielle company advertising. Original retail prices are given when known.
The titles of the following studies are unknown.
This white bisque bust is marked as an A.P. (artist’s proof.) It is 13.5″ high and is the only non-full-figure Native American study that I have yet seen.
The Thistledown Collection
This unusual collection has a bit of backstory attached to it. The collection was designed by Brian Ormerod who was also fond of drawing cartoons as a hobby. The first four photos appeared in the Fall 1985 issue of Brielle’s color catalog as a newly introduced series under the Bronn branding. The names and edition sizes are exactly as shown below. There was also a thumbnail detail photo of a piece showing a bride and groom mouse that was not pictured in full within the catalog.
I do not know the titles or issue years of the following four editions because that information does not appear on their backstamps. (The names given above were taken from Brielle Galleries’ catalogs.) The backstamps on these four pieces include only the Bronn logo, ‘Thistledown Collection by Bronn’, Made in USA, the edition size (100) and the individual sculpture number. Unfortunately the seller of these pieces did not specify their dimensions.
Other pieces in this series portrayed a bride and groom, a golfer, a holiday carol singer, a slot machine player, a mother mouse and baby, and a mouse with grandfather clock. The reason I know there were these others is because in late 1988 an arrangement was made with Connoisseur of Malvern to take over the production of the collection. Connoisseur artist Richard Sefton created new maquettes based on the original Ormerod-designed pieces, which were then produced at that studio in England under the slightly revised copyright name of “Thisledown Collection” (notice the missing second T) by Connoisseur as exclusive to Brielle Galleries – just as the Bronn collection had been. There were some changes in the colorway as well as in some, but not all, of the sculpture names; e.g., Christmas Deliveries was renamed One Mouse Open Sleigh but the name of Comfy and Cosy remained the same. The Connoisseur adaptations of the series will be shown in a future post. The Connoisseur pieces were introduced in 1989 and 1990. One would assume that any remaining Bronn-version stock would have been sold by Brielle between 1985 and 1988.
The White House 200th Anniversary Egg
There was a “final hurrah” for the Bronn of America studio after it had ceased retail production, but many people aren’t even aware that this was made by them because it was sold under the St. Petersburg Collection branding of the Theo Faberge company.
According to Ira Jacobson’s memoir (A Quest for Excellence: The Incredible Story of the Most Beautiful Store in the World) he was approached in 1999 by Gene Maillard who was on the White House 200th Anniversary Committee for suggestions on a fundraising event. Having been a major Faberge retailer in the past, he suggested partnering with Faberge to design one of their special St. Petersburg “surprise” eggs which the Bronn studio would produce as a limited edition with a portion of the proceeds going to the Anniversary Committee’s educational charity. By that time Brielle Galleries had already been sold and Mr. Jacobson was in the process of disposing of the building. However, he was able to provide research materials to the Faberge company who then proceeded to design the limited edition egg shown below. Former Bronn of America artist Dorothy Matteo poured the molds and did the detailing for each of the eggs produced. It’s not known who did the painting but is likely to have been Stephen Weston.
The egg is 8″ high overall and contains a miniature White House as its “surprise”. The front section of the egg displays the Great Seal of the United States. The two side panels contain portraits of President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams, respectively. The rear panel contains a portion of the letter written by the President to his wife:
Before I end my letter I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men rule under this roof. – John Adams, November 2nd 1800
There are four American flags separating the panels and each flag is slightly different, corresponding to its appearance during each of the following years: 1800, 1912-1959, 1977, and 2000. The eagle atop the lid is a combination of sterling silver and 24k gold, and his eyes are tiny diamonds in two different colors: The right eye a white diamond looking toward the olive branch symbolizing peace, and the left eye a black diamond looking at the arrows of war.
The miniature removeable White House is likewise crafted of 24k gold and sterling, with the base section inscribed with the years 1800 and 2000.
The total edition was 325 pieces, but there is some confusion about how many of those were available for retail purchase. The underside of the egg/base on the retail pieces is marked Theo Faberge, New York along with the individual sculpture number and issue size, as well as Bronn Fine Porcelain, Made in the U.S.A., The White House 200th Anniversary.
According to an article in the Asbury Park Press there is a special subset within the issue of 325. Those eggs were “dedicated two to each state and the District of Columbia. Those 102 eggs are specially numbered and tagged at $6,500 apiece.” The price of the remaining 223 eggs was set at $5900 each. (As a point of reference, egg #222 of the retail edition sold at auction for $1600 in February 2014.)
One of the two designated Washington D.C. eggs was presented to First Lady Hillary Clinton at the annual First Lady’s Luncheon in May 2000 which was also the official ‘introduction’ of the Faberge Anniversary Egg. This special egg also has her name added to the backstamp. Because of the value of the egg it would not be allowed to remain a personal gift but it is possible that it is currently in the holdings of the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas.
In May 2010, Ira Jacobson donated one of the eggs to the Monmouth University Library in Long Branch, NJ; it was, and perhaps still is, displayed in a showcase on the second floor.