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Alma Eikerman

Alma Eikerman grew up on a farm in Kansas with six siblings. After high school she launched her college education in the beginning of the Depression at Kansas State College, Emporia Beach, Kansas. There she earned a liberal arts degree in history, language, and literature; all of which remained a strong influence throughout her life. After graduation Eikerman went on to teach in public schools in Pratt and Winfield, Kansas.

The desire for a graduate degree led Alma to Kansas University at Lawrence where she studied design, painting, and took her first jewelry course. From Kansas University she transferred to Columbia University in New York where she completed her graduate degree in painting, design, art history, and metalsmithing.

Eikerman moved back to Kansas and accepted a position at Wichita State University teaching beginning and advanced general design and jewelry design. During this period, Alma developed her skills as a metalsmith and moved further away from jewelry design. At this time, the United States entered World War II. Alma Eikerman served in the Red Cross in Italy in 1944 and 1945. This experience brought her in touch with Florentine jewelers. When she finished her service in the Red Cross, Eikerman returned to Kansas and resumed teaching at Wichita State University.

In 1947, Indiana University offered Alma Eikerman a teaching position. This position included teaching design, watercolor painting, drawing and jewelry. In the jewelry and metalsmithing courses Alma taught ten to twelve undergraduate and three to four graduate students. As enrollment in this area increased, she strove to build a strong metals program at Indiana University.

Her first introduction to silversmithing was during the second Handy and Harmon workshop held at Rhode Island School of Design. The instructor for that workshop was Baron Erik Flemming, court silversmith to the King of Sweden. Eikerman learned stretching and raising metalsmithing techniques. It was this experience that sparked her interest in metalsmithing. During this period in the United States there were very few places to study silversmithing leading Eikerman to begin her studies in historical silversmithing and metalsmithing techniques. Her research was supported by sabbatical leave and funding from Indiana University in addition to grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. With this aid, Eikerman took one year of sabbatical leave to go to Europe, particularly Denmark and Sweden, to research these traditional techniques.

"It was the best place to learn, given the beauty of true designing that existed in the late forties and fifties. Crimping, stretching, Dutch bending, seaming, and forging are the processes which metalsmiths all over the world know. Each factory, all handmade work at that time, may have had a few unique ways of doing a given process, but these are world known processes. They are universal."

First Eikerman traveled to Denmark. She was drawn to the designs of Karl Gustav Hansen that she had seen the Hans Hansen shop display window. Eikerman was fortunate to meet Hansen, for he was only in his shop in Denmark a few days of each month.

After reviewing her portfolio, at the time consisted of three photographs, Hansen accepted Eikerman into his factory located in Kolding. Eikerman set out for Kolding the same day. Until this point, her metals training only involved breif workshops and a few classes in universities in the United States. Hansen's reputation was that of a good business man and upholding high standards of design and craftsmanship. Eikerman studied in Hansen's factory for four and a half months under deaf - mute master craftsman, Henrick Boesen.

"I didn't know Danish, and he couldn't talk, so we got along very well."

Once Alma completed her first piece, she was instructed to duplicate it up to three millimeters without assistance. Repetition and mastery of technique was vital to her foundation. She was then free to design and produce her own work. Eikerman's role in the factory was to learn traditional silversmithing techniques and experiment. Hansen was available to Eikerman for technical and aesthetic questions. Her most significant and ambitious piece from her time in Hansen's shop was a teapot. It embodied her control of the crimping technique and ability to successfully assemble multiple units with complex soldering operations (spouts, handles, lid, and base).

When her work in Denmark was finished, Eikerman left for Stokholm in 1948 to work with Baron Erik Fleming. He had extended an invitation to participants in the Handy and Harmon workshops to visit his atelier to do the same type of work as his factory apprentices; thus becoming familiar with all of the processes and operations of production metalsmithing. Here she raised an asymmetrical pitcher. Once again Eikerman had the fortunate experience of being surrounded by master craftsmen. From Stockholm, she visited Michael Wiler, in Munich, to learn granulation. Eikerman, then traveled to Paris after her work in Scandinavia. She studied under Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine and searched for a personal style.

Eikerman always sought out opportunities to improve her metalwork. She accepted numerous commissions to gain exposure in the public eye. Due to her perseverance as an artist and teacher, Eikerman has received numerous awards and honors and her work is collected internationally.

In her teaching she insisted the students should have control over their materials. Her students were required to complete at least one major smithing project to gain those skills.

Alma Eikerman received Indiana University's Distinguished Teacher award in 1976 and retired a Distinguished Professor emeritus in 1978. In 1981 the college of Arts and Sciences Graduate School Alumni presented its first awards to distinguished teachers, Alma Eikerman among those individuals.

Although she has since passed away, Eikerman made a lasting impression on this field. Eikerman stated,

"The true function of jewelry is to decorate, to ornament and thus command attention and admiration. In this sense the ornament must reveal form that is worthy and expressive of its time."