Currently on view in Boston’s Seaport District on the second floor of one of that neighborhood’s sheathed-in-glass high-rise buildings is: “Adorning Boston and Beyond: Contemporary Studio Jewelry Then + Now.”
Guest curated by MassArt Jewelry Professor, Heather White, for The Society of Arts + Crafts, the show is contoured to contextualize today’s jewelry trends using images and writings focused on the studio jewelry work of American post-war artists and designers. Such work blazed a conceptual imprint of enduring significance. White begins this show with documentation in photo and text to suggest the experimentation of the post-war era continues to inform the strongest studio jewelry trends of today. Particularly the show explores the role adornment plays, describing and declaring personal identity and engaging the public and the wearer.
Stepping forward from the elevator into the Society’s second floor foyer the exhibit commences as a cluster of black-and-white images that illustrate important mid-twentieth century American-made jewelry. Some visitors will recognize the image of Anjelica Huston modeling Alexander Calder’s elegantly looping gold statement necklace, which was photographed by Evelyn Hofer for The New York Times Magazine. Other supporting documentation illustrates jewelry by Art Smith, J. Fred Woell, Margaret De Patta, Margret Craver, Merry Renk, Miye Matsukata and Sam Kramer. These artists collectively reflect a sense of breakaway vigor that was fed by the freedom and possibility of the times.
Women jewelers are cited equal amongst their male counterparts as individuals with creative moxie who have achieved works of lasting brilliance. To some degree, this is revisionist framing because some early women jewelers did suffer career discrimination. It is also worth saying that opportunities after World War II, afforded by the GI Bill, created a sense of racial inclusiveness in the arts of this period, which gained further traction in the civil rights era. Actually, multi-cultural influences contribute important notes to this show both past and present.
The exhibition shifts shortly upon the viewer entering into a large survey context that features actual jewelry on view, creations by 34 studio jewelers. In a white light-filled space overlooking Boston Harbor, vitrines after vitrines display dominant trends in current studio jewelry. Chief among trends is an emphasis on enameling, which contemporary craft jewelers are using to bring descriptive color into their pieces and to enhance non-precious metals. Gold and silver bench-made jewelry pieces, as well as items made from found materials, are included. Molded synthetic works, laser-cut works and jewelry created by 3D printer are also on view.