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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From Senior Commons to Tower parties: 50 years of Coles TowerThe Bowdoin Orient, March 1st
Hugh Stubbins, a prominent modernist architect, designed the new Senior Center. While the building was the first example of modern architecture at Bowdoin, many of the College's peer institutions, and larger universities like Harvard and Princeton, had...Read more
Fort Worth show offers finds for lovers of modernist designDallas Morning News, February 27th
Yet modernism stretches from the square, unadorned mission and more artful art deco of the teens and '20s to sleek midcentury-modern works with designer pedigrees through the emboldened '80s. Another era identifier is the metal, from copper to...Read more
Louise Nevelson: 'Collage and Assemblage'New York Times, February 26th
The sculptor Louise Nevelson took up a fair amount of space in New York in the 1960s and early '70s. She was one of the most prominent artists of her generation, known for her imperious personality and a penchant for false eyelashes, heavy jewelry and ...Read more
Frank Lloyd Wright's West Coast Experiment, Ramping Up to the GuggenheimHyperallergic, February 25th
Before the quarter-mile ramp of New York's Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned a smaller slope on the West Coast. San Francisco's V. C. Morris Gift Shop, its design completed in 1948, predates the 1959 Guggenheim by a decade. It shows ...Read more
Delfina Delettrez Opens London ShopWomen's Wear Daily, February 23rd
LADY CAVE: Delfina Delettrez has opened her first shop outside Italy, on London's red-hot Mount Street, and it's a window into her mind — and her method. The designer has filled it with trompe l'oeil malachite, Giò Ponti lights and furniture, and...Read more
Iranian artist Tanavoli in the spotlight at Davis MuseumBoston Globe (subscription), February 21st
Next month, the Guggenheim Museum in New York will present a survey of mirror works and drawings by the celebrated Iranian modernist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, now in her 90s. And in May, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden ... some of the...Read more
57 Reasons to Love the Capital RegionAlbany Times Union, February 19th
The artworks above and below ground at the Plaza comprise what is, arguably, the most significant public collection of modern art (specifically, Abstract Expressionist) ever assembled. An Alexander Calder mobile in the Corning Tower lobby. A Robert ...Read more
What to Do in BeijingNew York Times, February 18th
Down the lane, check out the Ubi Gallery for handmade designer jewelry and Chinese ceramics, and the Li+U Workshop for handsome leather bags and wallets, made right there in the store. 5. Fit for a King | 1 p.m.. As the name suggests, Old Beijing...Read more