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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The Past and Future of CemeteriesThe New Yorker, October 23rd
Also in the exhibition is the drawing for a modernist urn by the Cubist artist Alexander Archipenko, squat and streamlined like a U.F.O., used for a memorial for the art collector Alfred Romney. There is also a photograph of the strange, touching...Read more
Paul Strand in PhiladelphiaGeorgetowner, October 23rd
Upcoming auctions at Freeman's, the oldest American auction house, include Modern & Contemporary Works of Art (Nov. 2), Jewelry & Watches (Nov. 3), American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts (Nov. 13) and American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists ...Read more
Garth's Branches OutMaine Antique Digest, October 23rd
Garth's has also delved into the Asian, jewelry, and Modernist markets. The summer sale offered a brief examination of the well-being of those categories. Garth's strapped a blood-pressure cuff on the arm of the antiques industry and checked the numbers...Read more
Al Warr: Lambertville art galleries kick the season up a notchHunterdon County Democrat, October 20th
“There is no other place in the country for collectors to see as vast a collection of Pennsylvania Impressionist & Modernist paintings,” said Jim Alterman, the gallery's owner. “More than 300 works by over 50 artists will be on display—and for sale...Read more
Denver Art Museum's "Matisse and Friends" a small, colorful thrillThe Denver Post, October 18th
It's convenience all around: For the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which owns the works and would otherwise put them in storage while its galleries are closed for renovation; for the DAM, which has the space and needed something hefty to...Read more
10/25: 'Modern Spirit: Art of George Morrison' at Heardazcentral.com, October 17th
A member of the Grand Portage Chippewa Band in Minnesota, Morrison often referred to himself as a "modernist artist who happens to be Native American." This is the first comprehensive retrospective of the late artist, featuring nearly 80 works...Read more
Fine Art and Antiques Show at Park Avenue ArmoryNew York Times, October 16th
dealers present paintings, sculptures, rugs, ceramics, timepieces, arms and armor, jewelry and furniture dating from thousands of years ago to the mid-20th century and deriving from a host of cultures and civilizations, from ancient Egypt to modern...Read more
In Rome, an Attack on a Sculpture May Be an Assault on WomenNew York Times, October 8th
The chained UP chair was one of many works in the retrospective that challenged sleek, formalist design, including the abstract modernist tradition for which his native Italy has been famous. Whether jewelry, furniture, paintings or buildings, his...Read more