The modernist jewelers in the United States who practiced their craft from the 1930s through the 1960s were pretty emphatic about their rejection of the styles that had come before. Victorian jewelry was dismissed as too decorative, Art Nouveau pieces were deemed too fussy, and the Art Deco aesthetic was considered excessively rigid.
Modernist jewelers felt they had more in common with painters, sculptors, and other modern artists of the day. Their ambitious goal was to create one-of-a-kind works of art that people could wear.
One of the early champions and practitioners of the form was Sam Kramer, who, like many of his contemporaries, lived, worked, and sold his creations in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Kramer worked primarily in silver, but he was also adept at fashioning rings, earrings, and pins out of copper and found objects, including moose teeth, buttons, fossils, and ancient coins. Sometimes Kramer used semi-precious stones such as garnets or opals in his surreal, geometric, or biomorphic pieces.
Another unofficial leader of the modernist jewelry movement was Kramer’s neighbor Art Smith. His jewelry ranged from simple silver neck rings to biomorphic pieces that drew from African motifs. While Smith made small pieces such as cuff links and earrings, many of his best works were large enough to wrap the body, as if the human form was the mere backdrop for his creations. His vintage copper wrist cuffs, especially the “jazz” cuffs with musical notes applied to their outside surfaces, are highly collectible.
Boomerangs, straight lines intersecting curves, and atomic-age shapes typified Ed Wiener’s work. Sometimes a pair of silver earrings resembling deformed hourglasses were adorned with a single pearl; other times, a cat’s-eye agate would be placed in the center of a piece, as if to give his inanimate objects the semblance of a human face.
Outside New York there was Betty Cooke, who worked in the Bauhaus mode in Baltimore. Her jewelry was composed of geometric shapes and characterized by a strong sense of order, wh...
Another Bauhaus acolyte was Margaret De Patta, whose work reflected the profound influence of Bauhaus teacher Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, with whom she studied. Meanwhile, out in San Francisco, Peter Macchiarini looked to African masks and Cubism for inspiration. Brass, copper, and silver were common materials, along with opals, agates, and wood.
In Scandinavia during the 1940s and ’50s, a parallel movement was underway. Henning Koppel and Nanna Ditzel were two notable Georg Jensen designers, whose silver necklaces sporting amoeba-like and teardrop shapes combined the perfection of Danish silversmithing with an interest in natural, even primal, forms.
Later, in 1960s Finland, Bjorn Weckstrom married solid silver and polished chunks of acrylic to create rings, bracelets, and pendants that were at once space age and organic.
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Book review: Frank Gehry became Frank Gehry through plain-old hard workThe Idaho Statesman, October 3rd
His name is a brand in itself: There was a Frank Gehry line of jewelry at Tiffany's, a Frank Gehry furniture line from Knoll, and a Frank Gehry handbag from Louis Vuitton. His level of celebrity transcends ... Mirroring the rise of contemporary...Read more
ART NOUVEAU vs. ART DECO: A Dipping of the Toes for the Jewelry NoviceKING5.com, October 2nd
Art deco emerged around the end of World War I, which was also the tail end of art nouveau and the Edwardian period, giving jewelry a more modernist approach. Art deco would hold its popularity in all aspects of art and architecture until around 1935...Read more
Daughter preserves parents' art legacyThe San Diego Union-Tribune, October 2nd
Toza taught art at San Diego State and Palomar College, and they became known for their unique, modernist style. Ruth's jewelry was fine and delicately detailed, thanks to a dental wax casting technique they learned in Rochester. Toza's sculpture was...Read more
Hope and Dread Are Infused in 'Berlin Metropolis'New York Times, October 1st
(This broad strain is examined and linked with photography in “New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933” opening Sunday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.) The world's most creative film industry emerged, as did ...Read more
Museum & Gallery Listings for Oct. 2-8New York Times, October 1st
The showcase of the exhibition is an installation of several Noguchi sculptures inside the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, a marriage of modern and traditional forms, and there are works just below the Native Flora Garden that offer moments of...Read more
Wearing Your Art On Your SleeveSmithsonian, September 29th
Also called the crafts-to-wear movement, and including fiber art, leather crafts, jewelry of all materials, and anything imaginable to adorn the self, the wearable art movement did not identify itself as such until the 1960s. However, many recognize...Read more
Bold, Structural Jewelry Modeled by the Women Who Make ItNew York Times, September 18th
Her most recent collection, with its interplay of spherical and angular forms, was informed by the work of the Italian Modernist architect Carlo Scarpa. But with jewelry, Elie says, ''you have such a limited space and dimension to work with. For me...Read more
“From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith” a rare treat ...ArtsATL, July 16th
A piece of jewelry is in a sense an object that is not complete in itself. Jewelry is a “what is it?” until you relate it to the body. The body is a component in design just as air and space are. Like line, form, and color, the body is a material to...Read more