This article is a book review published in the 1995 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine including “One of a Kind, American Art Jewelry Today” by Harry N. Abrams.
“One of a Kind”, American Art Jewelry Today
Published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, New York
Publisher’s price, $49.50
For the first time, the work of 54 American artists who identify themselves as jewelers has been brought together in the book “One of a Kind”, American Art Jewelry Today. Self identification is key to the presentation because function is not a necessity to the world of art; though in the world of jewelry, it is. These jewelers ask to be seen indivisibly – not as artists, not as jewelers, but as art-jewelers, and their case is made quite emphatically.
Susan Lewin has brought together a group of writers and critics who offer diverse views; the presentation of the work closely follows the discussions. Although the main body of the book allows the work to speak for itself, Lewin also offers two forewords by critic Barbara Rose and designer Jack Lenor Larsen. In her own introductory essay, Lewin acts as a moderator considering American artists’ jewelry principally by gathering quotes from a wide variety of people, both within and without the jewelry field.
The principal essay, which covers the history of the studio jewelry movement from 1940-1980, was written by Toni Greenbaum. Illustrated with pieces made during those four decades, the essay touches on dozens of jewelers, teachers, and events, discussing influential figures as well as those they influenced. This essay is valuable in documenting the movements that preceded and often shaped the work in the Jewelry Portfolio section.
The essence of the contemporary work, however, is best expressed in a commentary by Suzanne Ramljack on jewelry as small-scale sculpture. This brief but well-considered commentary captures the idea of the book – if jewelry is an art form, yet also a medium that is usually worn, how does the jeweler reconcile the needs of his/her art with the curves and dimensions of the human body? The reader is placed in an ideal frame of mind, historically and esthetically prepared to consider the work in the Portfolio of Jewelry Artists.
The work ranges from the comfortably wearable – Donald Friedlich’s slate, stone and glass brooches – to the consciously painful – Boris Bally’s exquisitely crafted metal jewelry cum weapons. The range of styles and materials is as diverse as the number of artists shown. While some artists see their role as pushing the edges of what may be called jewelry, others are more interested in simply pushing. That feeling is summed up by Leslie Leupp who says: “I want you to be disturbed. I want some mental and physical discomfort, mental awareness, a commitment.” Others seem to have been included for the sheer beauty of their work, for example Mary Lee Hu whose finely woven gold wire neckpieces and bracelets represent a marriage of ancient influence and dedicated metalsmithing.
Since many of the pieces suggest the monumentality of sculpture, it is helpful to have the actual dimensions. The guiding esthetic of the work shown is that of Thomas Gentille, cited by Lewin in her acknowledgments as her educator and editor.
Ettagale Blauer is a writer who resides in New York, New York and the author of Contemporary American Jewelry Design.