It is refreshing to see a designer of Betty Helen Longhi’s ability break away from the museum mentality and move into the marketplace with affordable production jewelry. She was really three people at the Plum Gallery exhibit, each making technically excellent, visually satisfying and very wearable jewelry. This was an organic, feminine collection of 23 pieces ranging from the very complex to streamlined functional, each, however, graceful and flattering to face or body.

Betty Helen Longhi: New Jewelry
The Plum Gallery, Kensington, MD
October 16-November 14, 1983

Her newest look, the Clothesline Series, incorporates textured, colored niobium and titanium as elegant rags fluttering from forged sterling neckwires. The use of grade-one titanium permits her to transfer the skills perfected in her earlier shell structures to this normally limited material with striking and original results.

Betty Helen Longhi Exhibition
Betty Helen Longhi, Pendant Clothesline Series 4
Sterling silver, niobium, 3½” h., 1983

The second Betty Longhi has created a reasonably priced line of pin/pendants, the Mandala Series, reminiscent of exploding seed pods, and fashioned of sterling silver and heat-colored, textured bronze. Within the limits of a two-inch circle, she has an almost endless potential for variation of elements, a pleasant solution to the one-of-a-kind versus production problem. The top sheet is split, hammered and curled back revealing bursts of color, pearls or forged “waves.” Silver attachments for the pendant cords are individually tailored, the only distraction being that the pin findings function “backward,” understandable since the artist is left-handed.

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Two painterly necklaces, a landscape and an underwater scene with abalone shell, are beautifully crafted with hammer-textured surfaces opposing forged sterling and bronze. I particularly liked the attention to detail as neckwire met pendant. So many jewelry designers approach neckwires as an afterthought, Longhi’s are carefully articulated to provide a flowing line and very comfortable fit. Accompanying earrings show mastery of forging techniques and are sufficiently complicated to be interesting as art.

Betty Helen Longhi Exhibition
Circle to the Moon, necklace/sculpture
Sterling silver, titanium, moonstone, 9″ h., 1983
Photos: Theis Photography Ltd.

The third Betty Longhi still makes unique collectors’ items. Basic to her one-of-a-kind pieces is the concept of dual function: sculptures equally at home on the body or a table. She has invented intriguing spiral hinges and connections which provide an almost invisible fit between jewelry and base. In Circle to the Moon both ends of the spiral structure detach, the long spiculum set with moonstone discreetly joining a titanium tail by means of a long, curved tongue-and-groove catch. The bases with jewelry removed are effective forms alone. The display was well suited to the Plum’s small jewelry showroom; huge photographs illustrated the wearability of the jewelry/sculptures and offered clues to their intricate construction.

By applying the same meticulous care to production as well as show pieces while keeping prices within the reach of the buying public, Betty Longhi has set an encouraging example for designers who want to earn a living doing what they enjoy. The value of her jewelry as collectibles and wearables can only increase.

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