Fred Uhl Ball papers, 1936-2002

A Finding Aid to the Fred Uhl Ball Papers, 1936-2002, in the Archives of American Art, by Stephanie Ashley

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Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Fred Uhl Ball was born in Oakland, California, in 1945. Ball's interest in enameling began in childhood, and was fostered by his mother, Kathryn Uhl, an illustrator and enamelist who taught life drawing at Mills College, and his father, a ceramicist, who was head of the art department at Mills.

Ball received his bachelor's and master's degrees in art from Sacramento State University. His first exhibition was a two-man show with Gerald Silva at the Barrios Gallery. His first national exhibition was held the same year, and his work was shown in Stuttgart, Germany, two years later. In the early 1970s Ball began experimenting with test tiles and assembling torch-fired enamels on thin copper foil into collage-like panels. He also experimented with using brass as a surface and with exposing white enamel to varying degrees of heat to produce a range of hues. In 1972, he published Experimental Techniques in Enameling (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold), which has since been considered the definitive text on enameling.

Ball was best known in Sacramento, where he lived and had his studio, for his large-scale public murals. In 1976 he joined the city's federally funded Comprehensive Employment and Training program (CETA) and created his first truly large-scale mural for the Sacramento Community Center. The mural won him critical acclaim and for the remainder of his career Ball would combine his personal work with additional commissions, and would continue to experiment with innovative enameling techniques and material in his sculptural collages. His Sacramento parking garage mural is one of the largest enameled murals ever attempted.

During the last decade of his life Ball was commissioned to create a number of large, site-specific works for corporate clients in the Sacramento area. In September of 1985 he was working on a fifty-foot copper mural, The Great Sacramento Valley, when he was assaulted at his studio. Ball died three months later at the age of forty from injuries sustained during the attack. The mural was completed by his mother and his associate, Bruce Beck, and was unveiled at Sacramento's Sutter General Hospital in December, 1986. A memorial retrospective of Ball's work, organized by the Creative Arts League, was held at the Crocker Art Museum from March to April of 1987.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of enamelist and sculptor, Fred Uhl Ball, measure 1.4 linear feet and date from 1936 to 2002. The collection provides scattered documentation of Ball's career through biographical material, family photographs, photographs of artwork, and printed material. The collection also includes a small group of papers concerning Ball's father, ceramicist F. Carlton Ball, his mother, illustrator and enamelist Kathryn Uhl Ball, and his grandfather, silversmith George Uhl.

The collection consists primarily of photographs and slide transparencies of Ball's artwork, but also includes photographs of Ball, his studio and some of his exhibitions. Papers and printed material include a vita compiled after Ball's death, news clippings providing an overview of his career, a folder of writings, and several items commemorating him.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection was assembled by Lois and David Warren after Ball's death and their original arrangement has been retained.

The papers are arranged into two series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Names" when they are creators or contributors and under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents.


  • Ball, F. Carlton, 1911-1992
  • Ball, Kathryn Uhl 1910-2000
  • Uhl, George A.


  • Silverwork
  • Enamel and enameling
  • Enamelers -- California -- Sacramento

Types of Materials:

  • Visitors' books
  • Photographs
  • Slides (photographs)


At his death, Fred Uhl Ball's art passed to his mother, Kathryn, who died in 2000 without any heirs. Susan J. Willoughby, a close family friend, served as Trustee of the Kathryn Uhl Ball Trust. Unfortunately, most of Ball's papers were discarded after his death. The remainder of the collection was assembled by Lois and David Warren, and given to the Archives of American Art by Susan J. Willoughby in 2001. Several 2002 news clippings were added to the collection in 2002.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was processed by Frank Thompson and Stephanie Ashley in 2002 with funding provided by the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. research facility.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Fred Uhl Ball papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

Fred Uhl Ball papers, 1936-2002. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Papers and Printed Material, 1936-2002, undated
(box 1; 0.3 linear ft.)

This series contains a small amount of scattered documentation of Fred Ball's life and three folders of material relating specifically to Ball's father, F. Carlton Ball, his mother, Kathryn Uhl Ball, and his grandfather, George Uhl.

Ball's papers include a copy of his influential text on enameling Experimental Techniques in Enameling, a vita of his career compiled in 2001 by Lois and David Warren, memorial resolutions passed in his honor, and birth and death certificates.

News clippings include newspaper and magazine articles written about Ball and his work, including tributes to him after his death. The clippings are an excellent source of information about Ball's significant achievements over the course of his career.

Writings include enameling notes, a partial draft of Experimental Techniques in Enameling, and a copy of an article by Ball, in addition to his work of art commission agreement and a reference from Phillip L. Isenberg.

"Tributes to Fred Uhl Ball - September, 1985" is the guest book for the one-man show at Artists Contemporary Gallery that Ball was preparing for when he was attacked in 1985. The book is signed with messages from people who attended the exhibition and also includes signatures of people who attended a memorial service for Ball on January 3, 1986. The folder contains an announcement for the exhibition and a copy of the program from the memorial service.

Papers of F. Carlton Ball and Kathryn Uhl Ball include photographs of each, news clippings, a letter from F. Carlton Ball to his son, an exhibition announcement for F. Carlton Ball, a letter of recommendation from Lyonel Feininger for Kathryn Uhl Ball, her résumé, photographs of her artwork, and a program from her memorial service. Papers of George Uhl consist of a program for an exhibition at E. B. Crocker Art Gallery in 1945, featuring Uhl's metal work and ceramics by Kathryn and Carlton Ball. There is also a photograph of a silver punch bowl, ladle and cups by George Uhl.

1 (hol) Ball, F. Carlton, 1938-1968, undated
1 (hol) Ball, Fred Uhl
1 (hol) Birth and Death Certificates, 1945, 1985
1 (hol) Copy of Experimental Techniques in Enameling, 1972
1 (hol) Letter from Sandy [Shaunonhowe?] to Fred Ball, 1973
1 (hol) Memorial Resolution, California State Assembly, 1986
1 (hol) Memorial Resolution, City of Sacramento, 1985
1 (hol) News Clippings, 1963-1987, 2002
1 (hol) Visitor Book, "Tributes to Fred Uhl Ball - September, 1985," 1985
1 (hol) Vita, 2001
1 (hol) Writings, 1981, 1985, undated
1 (hol) Ball, Kathryn Uhl, 1936-2000, undated
1 (hol) Uhl, George, 1945, undated

Series 2: Photographs, 1945-1987, undated
(box 1-2; 1.1 linear ft.)

This series contains photographs of Ball throughout his life, in addition to photographs of artwork and exhibitions. Photographs of Ball include portraits of the artist in his studio, and family photographs include baby, childhood, and high school pictures. There are also photographs of Ball demonstrating at the State Fair (1965); at an installation and in his studio; and with his mother and half-brother. One photograph of Ball as an infant is labeled "date unknown, photo possibly by Imogen Cunningham." Three photographs show Kathryn Ball and Bruce Beck working on Ball's Sutter Hospital Mural which they completed in 1986.

Binder 1: Photographs #1 contains photographs of commissions in California, Nevada, and New Jersey arranged alphabetically by name of site; and material relating to the 1987 Fred Uhl Ball Retrospective at Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, including a catalog of the exhibition, photographs of the installation and transparencies of works from the catalog.

Binder 2: Photographs #2 contains miscellaneous color photographs of work completed between 1968 and 1985, with some photographs of undated work. Binder 3: Slides #1 contains slides of Ball, including shots of him in his studio, and slides of exhibitions and artwork including commissions. Binders 4 and 5 contain slides of artwork organized by type of work or media.

The photographs and slides in this series were donated to the Archives of American Art in archival binders. With the exception of those found in box 1, they have been left in their original binders. The original arrangement has been maintained, and entries in the container list below are generally taken directly from the labels provided in the binders.

1 (hol) Photographs of Ball, circa 1980s
1 (hol) Photographs of Ball, Family Photos, 1945-1986
2 Binder 1: Photographs #1
2 Commissions, 1977-1986
2 Fred Uhl Ball Retrospective (including catalog of exhibition), 1987
2 Transparencies of Works from Retrospective Catalog, 1987
2 Binder 2: Photographs #2, Miscellaneous, 1968-1985, undated
2 Binder 3: Slides #1
2 Ball in His Studio, 1976-1984
2 Ball's Studio, circa 1979-1984
2 Early Work, 1962-1964
2 Early Work, 1970s
2 Exhibitions
2 Unknown Date or Venue, undated
2 Sacramento Library, One-Man Show, 1959
2 Barrio's with Gerald Silva, 1963
2 Fred Uhl Ball: Enamels, Last Show, Artist's Contemporary Gallery, 1985
2 Fred Uhl Ball Retrospective, Creative Arts League at Crocker Art Museum, 1987
2 Retrospective Catalog Photos, 1987
2 Works with Titles and/or in Private Collections, circa 1963-1986
2 Commissioned Works, circa 1970s-1980s
2 Binder 4: Slides #2
2 Sculpture
2 Beds and Pillows, circa 1973
2 Bag Lunch, circa 1972-1973
2 Gift Boxes, circa 1973
2 Match Books, circa 1973-1975
2 Miscellaneous, circa 1964-1986
2 Low Relief and Flat Works
2 Bowls, circa 1963-1973
2 Envelopes, circa 1973-1980
2 Copper Foil Relief Wall Pieces, circa 1964-1983
2 Copper Foil Tooled 3-Part Screen, circa 1964-1966
2 Copper Foil Tooled City Scene, circa 1984
2 City Scene Drawings, circa 1984
2 City Scene Enameled, circa 1984
2 Copper Foil Tooled Suns and Sunflowers, circa 1964
2 Bird and Fish Themes, circa 1963-1981
2 Copper Foil and Relief Panels, circa 1982-1986
2 Wire Inlay, circa 1973-1981
2 Copper Foil and Lacquer, circa 1981
2 Soft White Torch-Fired on Copper Foil, circa 1972-1986
2 Soft White Frames with Life Forms, circa 1973
2 Soft White "Bessies," circa 1972-1973
2 Calligraphic Strokes, Red and Black on Copper Foil, circa 1981-1982
2 Transparent Flux on Copper Foil, circa 1973-1986
2 Binder 5: Slides #3
2 Small Wall Pieces, circa 1968-1986
2 Figural Pieces, circa 1972-1973
2 Sgraffito Technique, circa 1968-1973
2 Daphne Blue Enameled Pieces, circa 1973-1984
2 Jig-Saw Works, circa 1975-1984
2 Stenciled Squares, circa 1981-1984
2 Late Squares, circa 1973-1986
2 Multiple Squares, circa 1981-1986
2 Painted Liquid White, circa 1973
2 Bronze-Textured Panels, circa 1976-1984
2 Gold Enamel on Copper Foil, circa 1975-1986
2 Models for Landscape, circa 1971-1984
2 Blue "Seascape" on Foil, circa 1973
2 Miscellaneous, circa 1973-1983
2 Brass with Thinly Brushed Flux, circa 1973-1984
2 Brass, Relief and Flat Panels, circa 1981-1986
2 Brass Landscape Series, circa 1981
2 Brass Tree Series, circa 1981-1984
2 Brass Square, circa 1970s-1980s
2 Titanium, circa 1981-1986