Remembering the 'Princess of Porcelain'
A Mass of Christian Burial for Helen Boehm, co-founder of a Trenton porcelain company whose works grace the Vatican and the diocesan Pastoral Center in Lawrenceville as well as museums and palaces around the world, was held Nov. 25 in Sacred Heart Church, Trenton, where she worshipped for years.[[In-content Ad]]
The Mass was concelebrated by Bishop John M. Smith, Father Dennis Apoldite, pastor of Sacred Heart, and Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish, Trenton. Following the Mass, she was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery on Cedar Lane, Hamilton.
Boehm, who co-founded Boehm Porcelain with her late husband, Edward Marshall Boehm, died Nov. 15 at her home in West Palm Beach, Fla., after a long bout with cancer and Parkinson’s disease. She was 89.
Known as much for her faith and philanthropy as for the artistic sensibility which led to creations that can be found in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Vatican, Buckingham Palace, the White House and the diocesan Pastoral Center, Boehm was remembered in newspaper articles in the days following her death as the epitome of the capital city’s motto: “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.”
A member of the board of the Vatican Museums, the Horatio Alger National Executive Committee, the World Wild Life Fund, the United World Colleges, her philanthropies included the Scheie Eye Institute and the Graduate Hospital, both of Philadelphia, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Girl Scouts of America and children’s hospitals nationwide, Boehm never forgot her ties to Trenton’s Sacred Heart Parish.
Days after the funeral, Father Apoldite, who first met Boehm in 1984 when he was parochial vicar in Sacred Heart Parish, spoke of her devotion to the students of the elementary school and their families.
“She wanted to take care of the children in our school,” said Father Apoldite of the inner city school which opened in 1953 and closed because of declining enrollment 50 years later. Among the activities she hosted and regularly attended was an annual Christmas party.
“She gifted each student with a Boehm dish or medallion as a keepsake, a new outfit and a catered luncheon,” Father Apoldite said.
“It was a big undertaking,” he recalled. “The teachers would coordinate the event, getting the size of each child, matching the size with the name. Each student would go home with a shopping bag of presents mostly from the greater Trenton area.” Each child would also receive a crisp, new $5 bill, Father Apoldite said.
Boehm, he said, always came to the school elegantly turned out, as a way of encouraging the inner city children to follow her example. “She told them how she came from a large, poor Italian family. She’d tell them that if she could succeed, there was no reason they couldn’t do the same.” When the school won the President’s Award for Excellence in the early 1980s, she hosted a gala celebration there and followed up by taking three students to Rome to meet Pope John Paul II to “inspire them, to show them what is possible,” Father Apoldite said.
Boehm was born Elena Francesca Franzolin in Brooklyn in 1920, in a family of 9 children. Her father, a cabinet maker, died when she was 13. The young Helen worked as a dressmaker to help support the family before becoming an optician.
She married Edward Marshall Boehm in 1944 and they started their porcelain studio in their Trenton basement.
He was a veterinary assistant trained in animal husbandry and she was an optician. But, as Margalit Fox of Business Day noted in Helen Boehm’s obituary, he was a gifted sculptor and she was a natural pitchwoman. Together they produced highly collectible porcelains including pieces presented to every U.S. president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama.
After her husband’s death, she continued to run the company, creating such memorable pieces as a porcelain copy of Princess Diana’s wedding bouquet and a limited edition white rose sent to Princes William and Harry.
Under her stewardship, Boehm grew into a multimillion dollar business with studios in Trenton and Malvern, England. She sold the company, which is still operating, in 2003.
But her greatest legacy may be the children she encouraged. The Trentonian newspaper reported Sarah Timmins De Gregory, one of the three students she took to Rome, e-mailed the family with condolences following Boehm’s death.
De Gregory said Boehm introduced her to Italian food and art, setting the spark that led to a career in New York museums and her current work in Harlem as a public health nutritionist for inner city school children.
“While I did not keep in touch with Mrs. Boehm over the years, her generosity stayed with me…and her memory lives on, especially for the school children of Sacred Heart.”