Member Profile

1975 Horatio Alger Award Recipient

Helen F. Boehm*


Edward Marshall Boehm, Inc.

“Have a purpose in your life, imbue your work with quality, and leave some beauty.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1920, Elena Francesca Stephanie Franzolin was the fifth of six children. Her parents were from Genoa, Italy. Her father built cabinets, while her mother trained her daughters in the domestic arts of sewing and cooking.

After Boehm's father died when Boehm was 12, her mother worked at home, embroidering linen. In junior high school, Boehm began sewing dresses for her classmates, charging 50 cents per dress. Her social life was sheltered in Italian traditions. 'My mother was my chaperone,' she said, 'and I was my sister's chaperone. We couldn't go anywhere without our chaperone.'

After graduating from 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.

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Boehm encouraged her husband to devote all his time to sculpting. While he worked at home, she went to night school and earned an optician's license. Then, she became the first woman to dispense eyeglasses 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 agent.

In 1959, after hearing that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip would be visiting the White House, Boehm wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower and suggested that 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 her husband's work to international prominence.

In 1969, Boehm's husband died of a heart attack, but Boehm vowed to carry forward their business. Boehm traveled the world, showcasing the porcelain of the Edward Marshall Boehm Studio. Boehm Porcelain sculptures have been exhibited in 131 museums and institutions worldwide, 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 was named for Edward Boehm'the only Vatican museum not named for a pope.

Despite her success, Boehm never forgot the values of honesty, humility, and charity. 'I try to remain who I am,' she said. 'Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.'

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