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Author Topic:   American Modernist Jewelry
Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1771
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 11-16-2004 04:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
[10-019]

The Modernist jewelry movement in America revived many of the tenets of the Arts & Crafts movement of a few decades earlier. Modernist jewelers placed emphasis on hand-craftsmanship and frequently used inexpensive and found materials. The primary metal used by the modernists was silver. Bronze and copper were popular as well, but gold was used to a far lesser extent. Additionally, the modernists' jewelry drew influence from contemporary artistic movements, such as Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Abstract Expressionism, etc. Most better examples of modernist jewelry can also be appreciated as pieces of sculpture.

Known Makers
On the marketplace, the most desirable modernist jewelry is signed by makers who are well known, usually because of superior design and craftsmanship, as well as through exhibitions.

These ca. early 1950s earrings are a good example of Ed Wiener's (NYC) earlier work. Constructed of silver and set with garnets, their form is biomorphic and a little bizarre; the design was almost certainly influenced by Surrealism.

Olaf Skoogfors's (Phila.) work is fairly scarce. The circa 1965-70 brooch shown above was made using the lost-wax casting method. Its feel is sculptural, and its motif is ambiguous: it could be an owl's face, a mask, or perhaps even a landscape.

The whimsical Betty Cooke tie tack from around 1960 exemplifies abstraction. The piece is appealing in its simplicity. Abstraction and stylization were popular among the modernists in the 1950s and 1960s, and popular motifs included birds (used often by Cooke and Frances Holmes Boothby), musical instruments, and the human form (such as the Frances Holmes Boothby brooch pictured below).

(This brooch is signed "fhb STERLING")

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1771
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 11-16-2004 04:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Ed Levin (Bennington, VT and NYC) still works today. His earlier pieces are marked LEVIN in block type, while his later (circa mid-1980s-present) work is signed Ed Levin in script. Levin has produced jewelry in a wide range of styles, usually in silver, but also in bronze, gold, and mixed media. His work is always well-crafted. Many of his pieces, such as the chokers pictured above, are simple and form and were produced in larger quantities. These are not quite as sought-after as his more intricate and earlier pieces, such as the abstract ebony & sterling pendant pictured below.


Unknown Makers
As with the Arts & Crafts movement, there are hundreds of modernist makers whose identities are now unknown (many deservedly so). But an unrecognized signature should not necessarily be a deterrent when considering a modernist item for purchase. Design and quality of manufacture should be the criteria for judging an unknown piece. Sadly, less successfully designed objects by well-known makers can still sell for more than better designs by unknowns.

Pictured above is a circa 1965 necklace by "LC?". I am not familiar with this maker, but the necklace is well-made and intriguing in appearance. The design is of a rounded rectangular box (note the pendant's dimensionality in photo number 2), part of which is cut away to reveal a textured interior and a turquoise cabochon. The exterior has a softly hammered finish. The feeling of the pendant is similar to many Surrealist works, particularly some by Magritte and de Chirico: the viewer questions what lies in the shadows and beyond view (i.e., underneath the part of the box that was not cut away).

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1771
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 11-16-2004 04:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

The brooch by "ODELL" is a later Modernist work in a very abstract mode. Its design is three overlapping, undulating planes. The outer planes are brushed silver, and the central plane is made of silver with the mokume-gane (wood-grain) technique. The pin is signed "ODELL STERLING" and also hand-engraved "3/83 COPPER SHAKUDO." Its elegance and successful use of a difficult and seldom-seen technique in American jewelry make it a fine example of studio jewelry.

Modernism for the Masses
While makers such as those listed above, as well as others like Sam Kramer, Paul Lobel, Bill Tendler, etc., were making one- or few-of-a-kind objects by hand, a handful of American costume jewelry manufacturers began producing Modernist style jewelry in mass quantities. The most prolific of these seems to have been Beaucraft Sterling of Providence, RI. Other makers who produced modernist jewelry in large quantities include Danecraft (silver) and Renoir/Matisse (mostly copper)

Beaucraft's efforts in modernism are usually abstract/geometric in form (such as the earrings pictured above), or are stylized figural designs (such as their ubiquitous stylized cat jewelry). Naturally, mass-produced modernist jewelry is worth only a small fraction of its handmade counterpart. Generally the design of these items is inferior and derivative.

Some makers, like Ed Levin and Frank Rebajes, produced both unique items and multiples. Still, their work was almost always handmade whereas Beaucraft et al. simply rolled their items off of an assembly line, thereby disregarding one of the most important aspects of the modernist jewelry movement. I do not like the mass-produced modernist jewelry of companies like Beaucraft.

Book Suggestion
Marbeth Schon's new work, Modernist Jewelry 1930-1960: the Wearable Art Movement is an outstanding reference that is an essential addition to any jewelry and silver collector's library. It lists scores of makers, with as much biographical detail as was available, and it pictures hundreds of examples of their work, as well as makers' marks. The illustrations show all manners of modernist jewelry, and also demonstrate the artisans' stylistic evolutions.

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Brent

Posts: 1502
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 11-18-2004 10:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the great thread, Paul! I personally am always looking for great Modernist jewelry as well. I think there are a few previous threads of mine dealing with similar pieces.

I agree that most of the mass produced modernist jewelry is less interesting than the handmade variety. Still, I find that some of the Beau designs are rather appealing, and I usually pick up pieces with a good look if the price is right.

One problem I find these days is distinguishing between vintage pieces and the work of contemporary craft jewelers. There are some very fine people working today, and not all of them sign their work. Even if they do, they may be impossible to trace. My wife and I enjoy the work of Lightwing, a husband and wife team that does silver overlay on dichroic glass. None of their pieces are signed, so if they leave their boxes there is no way to readily identify them, except by style.

Brent

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Patrick Vyvyan

Posts: 640
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 11-18-2004 02:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Patrick Vyvyan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I suspect your Odell piece is by Tom Odell of Chatham MA. Examples of his current work can be seen at Odell Studio Gallery

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FredZ

Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 11-18-2004 02:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A few of the new organizations have made attempts to collect the marks of contemporary smiths and jewelers. SNAG or the Society of North American Goldsmiths, SAS Society of American Silversmiths, & the American Society of Jewelry Manufacturers all hold records of members and their marks. Rainwater has included ther some of the SAS members in the latest revision of her Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers.

It is a shame that any smith or jeweler does not feel it necessary to mark their work. It is not cost prohibitive to have a mark made and it shows pride in your work and increases the marketability of your work. Law prohibits the quality marking of precious metals without a maker's mark that can be correctly attributed.

Paul, Thanks for starting this important phase and period of silver collecting and study. Marbeth has done a fabulous job in publishing her book and on her website.

Fred

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June Martin
Forum Master

Posts: 1223
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 11-20-2004 06:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for June Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Paul, this is a great post. I especially appreciate your point about the plethora of unknown modernist makers as there were in the Arts and Crafts Movement as well as the practice of not marking pieces. We happened to sit next to a contemporary painter recently at a dinner who has several jeweler friends and we brought up our frustration that so many contemporary smiths don't sign their works. The point hit her like a brick and she agreed it made no sense. Painters would never dream of not signing their works. Why should smiths be so modest?

Kudos too to Marbeth Schon for helping us all learn more about these Modernist masters. Another good reference book on American Modernist Jewelry is Messengers of Modernism: American Studio Jewelry 1940-1960 from the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts.

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1771
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 11-22-2004 01:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Patrick, thanks for pointing me to Mr. Odell's web site. I contacted him with pictures of the pin, and indeed, it is his work.

If anybody has Modernist items to share, please do. Brent, I am curious to see a piece of Lightwing's work if you are able to post an image. (see:Lightwing Sterling Overlay Jewelry)

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vathek

Posts: 962
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 12-01-2004 01:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for vathek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
a pair of cufflinks by George Salo.

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vathek

Posts: 962
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 01-17-2005 01:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for vathek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How about Otto Robert Bade (orb)?

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1771
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 01-17-2005 02:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Otto R. Bade, who marked his objects "Orb" in cursive script, purchased some of his designs from Frank Rebajes, and created others of his own. Some Orb objects are quite striking (have seen a few nice bracelets and pins), but for the most part, I find that his pieces are not as nice as other Modernists'. Most of his work is mass-produced and frequently, it has that matte finish that must have been popular in the 50s and 60s.

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Scott Martin
Forum Master

Posts: 11382
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 02-07-2008 02:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
via email:
quote:
Hello,

The FHB stamp that someone at your site is asking about is a piece hand crafted by Frances Holmes Boothby. She began production in the 50's & retired in the early 80's. She had no apprentices. Her work was all produced by hand. Most were one of a kind. A few were production pieces.
she also did a few castings. She was located in upstate NY and Weston, VT. She died 7-8 yrs. ago.

I hope this information is helpful.

Kate Staman


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vathek

Posts: 962
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 02-08-2008 02:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for vathek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
another Boothby piece, a rather small tie bar at only 1.5" long. Maybe for a thin woman's tie?:

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Polly

Posts: 1939
Registered: Nov 2004

iconnumber posted 02-08-2008 03:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Polly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
May I add a couple of pieces? Although Modernism is not really my thing--I'm a Victorian girl--two of my favorite pins are Modernist.

One by Paul Lobel, about 1.5 inches across:


And one unmarked (at least as far as I can see), about an inch across, with a wonderful sperm like design:



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Polly

Posts: 1939
Registered: Nov 2004

iconnumber posted 02-08-2008 06:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Polly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I also like these earrings by Ronald Pearson, though they're so much not my style that once a friend I ran into said, "Polly? Is that you? I didn't recognize you in those earrings!"

I particularly like the way they're mirror images, which must have been tricky with such an intricate abstract design.


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FredZ

Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 02-08-2008 09:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Polly,

These are great image of classic Modernist pieces and by some of the best. Lobel was a great designer. Ronald Hayes Pearson's work was a great influence on my work and continues to be an inspiration. Thanks for sharing them with us.

The short Boothby tie bar would have fit perfectly with the narrow ties we wore in the early 60's. Narrow belts were all the rage then as well.

Fred

[This message has been edited by FredZ (edited 02-08-2008).]

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Polly

Posts: 1939
Registered: Nov 2004

iconnumber posted 02-08-2008 10:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Polly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks, Fred. I think they're beautiful too.

The Pearson earrings were converted from screw backs to posts before they found their way to me, and I don't know which way is supposed to be up. Whenever I wear them I spend a some time staring at my ears in the mirror & twisting them around trying to decide.

Okay, one last pair of earrings, and that exhausts my Modernist jewelry. These are made of twisted wire, marked "sterling" on the screw back finding but without a maker's mark. The construction is very simple--just wire and the findings--but there's something graceful & appealing about them, at least in 3D.


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vathek

Posts: 962
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 02-10-2008 10:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for vathek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is my contribution to Pearson and also a pair of earrings by Otto Robert Bade. Notice their similarity to the pair listed above by Beaucraft in Paul Lemieux's post. The use of the parabolic dish form seems popular, as does the use of artificial patination.

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rat

Posts: 63
Registered: Jan 2001

iconnumber posted 02-11-2008 12:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for rat     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is a pair of Sterling and ebony fish cufflinks from California modernist, Everett MacDonald.

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1771
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 03-14-2008 11:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is a bracelet by "Gra-Wun", the trade name used by by Scottsdale jeweler Ray Graves. "Wun" was taken from the name of an early business partner, Berta Wunderlich. Gra-Wun was in operation from 1959 through fairly recently. Based on the design, this looks like a late 50s/early 60s piece.

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Polly

Posts: 1939
Registered: Nov 2004

iconnumber posted 03-14-2008 02:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Polly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I love the way that Gra-Wun bracelet looks like a row of acrobats.

[This message has been edited by Polly (edited 03-14-2008).]

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FredZ

Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 03-14-2008 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I regret to inform everyone that Ed Levin has past away. He was a great influence on many contemporary jewelers and he will be sorely missed.

Fred

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FredZ

Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 09-09-2008 11:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just acquired this wonderful piece at a local antique fair.

A Lobel horse brooch. Images do not reveal the multi dimensional layer of the separate cutout pieces of silver used to create this little treasure.

Fred

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Polly

Posts: 1939
Registered: Nov 2004

iconnumber posted 09-09-2008 05:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Polly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That is really neat! I would love to see a picture from another angle as well.

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FredZ

Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 09-09-2008 11:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Polly,

I will try taking an image this weekend and post it.

The head neck & mane are a single pierce piece of silver sheet and it is soldered directly onto the front legs and torso. A piece of square wire has been soldered to the first two pieces of sheet silver to act as a spacer and then the tail and back legs were soldered onto the assembly. The trailing horizontal tail is bent up and negotiated so that it can be soldered to the front legs. Finally a round pellet of silver was soldered on as the eye. A bit of judicious filling and the attachment of the pin stem and catch and Voila, the piece is ready for the showcase once it is oxidized and polished.

These pieces are not only wonderous items to wear.... They are also fabulous teachers.

Best,
Fred

[This message has been edited by FredZ (edited 09-10-2008).]

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Scott Martin
Forum Master

Posts: 11382
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 07-31-2020 05:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Paul A. Lobel
b. Baku , Roman ia, 4 March 1899
d . New York, 11 February 1983

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