1975 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Have a purpose in your life, imbue your work with quality, and leave some beauty."
Born Elena Francesca Stephanie Franzolin to immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York, Helen Boehm was the fifth of six children. Her father was a cabinet maker. Her mother instilled traditional Italian values in her daughters, training them in the domestic arts of sewing and cooking. When Boehm's father died when she was 12, her mother worked at home, embroidering linen. In junior high, Boehm began sewing dresses for her classmates, charging 50 cents per dress. Her social life was sheltered in the Italian tradition. "My mother was my chaperone," she said, "and I was my sister's chaperone. We couldn't go anywhere without our chaperone."
After graduating high school, Boehm went to work as a receptionist for the family's optometrist. While visiting her brother at the Air Force Convalescent Center in New York, she met Edward Boehm, who was sculpting with wet clay. He told her that sculpting was only a hobby; at the time, he was working as a veterinarian's assistant. After a short, chaperoned courtship of two months, the couple married.
Boehm encouraged her husband to devote full time to his sculpting. While he worked at home, she went to night school and earned an optician's license. She became the first woman to dispense eye glasses in New York City.
In 1950, the couple set up a small studio in Trenton, New Jersey. During her lunch hours, Boehm took her husband's animal porcelains around to nearby stores. Her persistence paid off when the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased two pieces for the museum. The following year, Boehm quit her job to become her husband's full-time sales representative and public relations expert.
In 1959, after hearing that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip would be visiting the White House, Boehm wrote to President Eisenhower and suggested her husband be commissioned to create a porcelain statue of Prince Philip on his polo pony as a state gift. The now famous "Polo Pony" propelled Boehm's work into international prominence.
In 1969, Boehm's husband died of a heart attack, but she vowed to carry forward their business. Boehm traveled the world, showcasing the porcelain of the Edward Marshall Boehm Studio. Boehm Porcelain sculptures are now exhibited in 131 museums and institutions throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The White House, Buckingham Palace, The Heritage, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and an entire wing of the Vatican Museum, which has been named for Edward Boehm--the only Vatican museum not named for a pope.
Helen Boehm resided in Palm Beach, Florida. Her interests included showing classic automobiles and supporting the Boehm Polo team. Despite her success, she never forgot the values of honesty, humility, and charity. "I try to remain who I am," said Boehm. "Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground."* Deceased