Emile Norman, 1918-2009

National
Monday, September 28, 2009
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Emile Norman

Emile Norman in his element.

California designer, spirited artist, and inventive mosaicist and sculptor, Emile Norman died in Monterey on September 24. Norman, who lived in a house of his own design in Big Sur, was an inspiration to artists of all kinds. His large-scale public work was known for being integrated with its architecture, an approach seen most vividly in the recently restored mural at the California Masonic Temple on Nob Hill in San Francisco.

Constructed of 45 acrylic panels, the extraordinary window tells the story of Masonic wayfarers coming to California by land and by sea. Norman invented the technique he used for such pieces of art, which he called endomosaics. They incorporate fabric, plastic, and soil to create his striking imagery. Elsewhere, he is known for his jewelry and work influenced by nature, such as marble sculptures that favored animal imagery. He is also remembered as a social pioneer: His openly gay relationship with partner Brooks Clement—long before gay marriage was a topic of national debate—is explored, along with the rest of his career, in the 2008 PBS documentary Emile Norman: By His Own Design. Toward the end of his life, Norman was still creating art: small inlaid pieces he called Nature Poems. His spirit lives on in the work of the Emile Norman Charitable Trust, a nonprofit organization he created in 2005 to help support cultural and humanitarian activities.

The Masonic (David Wakely/Courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

The Masonic Temple mosaic. (David Wakely/Courtesy Architectural Resources Group)

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