How a little porcelain pig changed one Delaware artist’s life

Wilmington artist Irma Reinhold received a little porcelain pig as an engagement gift, it’s influence is still being felt 50 years later.

Irma Reinhold started working in watercolors as a little girl, but it was an engagement gift about 50 years ago that changed all that. She was given a little porcelain pig that she describes as “very charming, a very light hearted thing”. That charming gift changed the course of her art; she began painting on porcelain and hasn’t looked back.

From plates, to tiles and Christmas ornaments, Irma uses porcelain like other painters use canvas. Most of the items Irma uses she finds in antique or thrift stores, so long as the plate or bowl has a mostly white surface she can paint on it.

The transition from watercolor to porcelain painting didn’t happen overnight. As you can imagine there weren’t many places where you could learn this art form. Fortunately, the person that gave Irma the gift just happened to be taking lessons from the woman who had made the gift itself.

Irma learned many things from her teacher, but perhaps one of the most important lessons was patience. Painting on porcelain is a very time consuming process. If you rush it, you could put too much paint on the plate and it would just boil and pop right off the plate when fired in the kiln.

“You have to take this in steps and I think for today’s fast world where everything is supposed to be done instantly, this is really a very long time consuming process”, says Irma.

Nature and animals, the little guys running around Irma’s backyard fuel her creativity. Little rabbits, squirrels and raccoons adorn many pieces of Irma’s work. Exotic animals like tigers and various birds are also depicted in her work. If Irma doesn’t know what an animal really looks like she hits the books for some research. But perhaps her favorite little critter is the squirrel.

“I know not everyone likes squirrels, but I think they are very pretty, I think they are darling”, says Irma.

Today Irma works more on full-scale paintings on porcelain tiles. These paintings are not only time consuming but also a “challenge” says Irma.

“Its unforgiving, when I fire it, its not like with oil I can go over it, or with watercolor maybe wipe it out, I’m stuck with it.”

Most people that buy Irma’s work have an appreciation for the art form, “they get it”, says Irma. You can’t please everyone however, and one story Irma tells is of a man who purchased a little porcelain panda for his wife. The wife didn’t have any appreciation for what it was or the work that went into it.

“I thought oh, I feel sorry for that little panda, but I was really feeling sorry for me that someone else didn’t get it,” says Irma.

For over 50 years now Irma has been working in this medium, and she is still going strong. She finds it exciting when she sends one of her creations off into the world. “You are just thrilled that they are going to someone who really loves it”, says Irma.

Not happy to just paint, Irma founded The Delaware Foundation for the Visual Arts. The group provides scholarships to high school seniors looking to continue their education in visual arts. The group also holds classes as well as art shows throughout the year.

It’s the satisfaction of a job well done that drives Irma. If however, she is not happy with a piece she won’t hesitate to destroy it, says Irma, “I don’t want that to be considered part of me”.

“I work hard to do it, so hopefully they will enjoy it through the years.”

 

 

Irma still makes custom work you can reach her as well as find more information about the Delaware Foundation for the Visual Arts on their website.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.