PAPERS, 1922-1996

5 linear inches

and audiovisual material 


ACQUISITION: The papers (donor no. 411) were donated by Esther Dendel in 1997. The oral history (donor no. 412) was donated by Professor Annette Lynch of the University of Northern Iowa in 1997. Manuscript transferred from UI Special Collections (donor no. 168) in 2006.

ACCESS: The papers and oral history are open for research.

AUDIOVISUAL: Seven audiocassettes shelved in audiocassette collection (AC400-AC406).

COPYRIGHT: Copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

PROCESSED BY: Jessica Miller, 1997; Lindsay Shannon, 2008. [DendelEsther.doc]



         Esther Sietmann Warner Dendel, author and artist, was born February 2, 1910, on a farm near Laurel, Iowa, to Lewis Sietmann and Grace Stanton Sietmann. She was an avid member of the 4-H club for six years, joining at the age of eleven; she became state 4-H president at the age of seventeen. She won numerous awards on local and national levels, which together gave her the money to attend her first year of college. Sietmann graduated from high school as valedictorian in 1927 and in the fall entered Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa.

         After two years at Iowa State College, Sietmann left to take a job as a Home Demonstration Agent with the Extension Department at the West Virginia Agricultural College. In 1936, she returned to Iowa State College, graduating from the Home Economics Department in 1938. Following graduation she received a Lydia Roberts Fellowship and entered Columbia University in New York City. After one year at Columbia she obtained her master’s degree in art, with an emphasis in sculpture.

         Sietmann was married on December 9, 1939 to botanist Robert Warner, whom she had met at Iowa State College. In 1941, he was appointed Research Director for the Firestone Rubber Company Plantation in Liberia, Africa. While in Liberia, Esther Warner met Jo Dendel, who made prints to illustrate her first book about Africa, New Song in a Strange Land, ca. 1948. She returned to the United States in December of 1943 and taught in the Art Department of the University of Minnesota at St. Paul. She was divorced from Robert Warner and in 1945 moved to Costa Mesa, California, where she and Jo Dendel formed a business partnership called Denwar Ceramics. She was married to Jo Dendel in 1950.

         Denwar Studios became a place of education, where Esther and Jo Dendel hold a weekly informal workshop to teach their craft. The workshop began in the 1960s and was still active in 1997.        


Scope and Content Note

         The Esther Dendel papers date from 1925 to 1996 and measure 5 linear inches. The papers consist of biographical information, a book, the Denwar Workshop, an oral history, a scrapbook, photographs, and the manuscript for New Song in a Strange Land.

         The biographical information (1953) consists of a letter written by Esther Dendel’s mother, Grace Stanton Sietmann, to the University of Iowa Libraries, in response to a request made by the Special Collections Department for biographical information about Esther Dendel.

         The book (1948) is about Denwar Ceramics and consists mainly of photo illustrations of the processes involved in creating the Denwar Dinnerware.  

         The Denwar Workshop (1988), a history of how Denwar Ceramics became a workshop and studio for education, was written by member Rosita Montgomery.

         The oral history (1996) consists of seven audiocassettes shelved in the audiocassette collection and a transcript of the interviews. The oral history was done by Kathy Sulentic, a student at the University of Northern Iowa, and focuses on Esther Dendel’s relationships with family and friends in Iowa, Liberia, and California.

         The scrapbook (1925-1940 and undated) consists of photographs, letters, and newspaper clippings concerning Esther Sietmann’s 4-H club membership and college life.

         The photographs (1943-1945 and undated) are of the Dendel home in Costa Mesa, California and of art from Liberia.

Box no. Description

Box 1
                       Biographical information about Esther Dendel by Grace Stanton
                               Sietmann, 1953
                       Book: about Denwar Ceramics, 1948
                       Denwar Workshop by Rosita Montgomery, 1988
                       Oral History
                               Transcript, 1996
                               Audiocassettes [shelved in audiocassette collection:AC400-AC406]
                       Scrapbook, 1922-1940 and undated
                       Photographs, 1943-1945 and undated

Box 2
                        Manuscript, New Song in a Strange Land