A QUIET, otherworldly sense fills the low-lit galleries devoted to the Frick Pittsburgh’s new exhibit, “Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry” (now through May 10). The 200-plus pieces in the show, including luminous moonstone necklaces and hair combs and lustrous enamel brooches and tiaras, twinkle in their glass cases, eliciting oohs and ahs of admiration for their beauty and craftsmanship.
Covering the period from 1880 to 1930, with the height of production between 1890 and 1910, the exhibit explores how women influenced a new style of jewelry as muses to male designers and for the first time, as designers themselves. (About 30 percent of the work in the show was made by women.)
Handcrafted and untraditional, “art jewelry” was a response to growing industrialization at the turn of the century and the changing role of women, who were enjoying more freedom while lobbying for education reform and vying for the right to vote.
More freedom resulted in less restrictive clothing designs that could accommodate a more active lifestyle—playing tennis, pursuing secondary education. That clothing called for a new kind of jewelry, which Frick chief curator and director of collections, Sarah Hall, called “a combination of bling and political ideals.”
To produce this jewelry’s unique and innovative look, in addition and often instead of conventional (and expensive) diamonds and gold, artists worked in enamel and silver and with semi-precious gemstones, such as lapis lazuli, moonstone, obsidian and aquamarine.
Organized by a selection of pieces from five countries—France, Austria, Germany, Great Britain and the United States—the exhibition offers a glimpse into the social, political and economic climate in which it was created.
That climate was much more woman-friendly in the Arts and Crafts Movement of Great Britain as well as in America’s—where it flourished in New York and Chicago—than in the Art Nouveau Movement in France and in Germany and Austria’s workshops.
The first case in the exhibit displays a pearl and aquamarine necklace (still in its original 1890 box), an amethyst and enamel pendant and a yellow gold pendant with moonstone, amethyst and pearl by Charlotte Newman in the late 1890s. She was the first woman to be recognized as a jeweler in her own right in England and, says Hall, “paved the way for a generation of women jewelry makers.”
While British art jewelry was intended to be available to anyone who wanted it, Art Nouveau jewelry in France was designed by men for a wealthy and/or theatrical clientele. Actress Sarah Bernhardt was both muse and patron to Alphonse Mucha (whom she discovered) and René Lalique, who designed her stage and personal jewelry in the mid-1890s.
One of the fun highlights of the show is a video of a dance created by Löie Fuller in the late 19th century that involved sweeping, swirling movements in a billowy silk gown. “Her mesmerizing dance was a clear real-life analogue to the curvaceous female forms echoed in Art Nouveau art and jewelry,” says Hall.
As was the case in France, in Germany and Austria, the artists were men. Many of the pieces, like Karl Rothmüller’s mermaid brooch, resembled those of Art Nouveau. Others, such as Josef Hoffman’s pin for the hostess of Vienna’s Cabaret Fledermaus, favored geometric lines.
In the United States, in New York, Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Tiffany & Co. founder, Charles Tiffany, embodied the arts and crafts aesthetic in his interest in nature and unusual gemstones. Two women—first Julia Munson and the Meta Overbeck—ran his jewelry workshop and were thought to be key designers.
Finally, Chicago was one of the most prolific centers of the arts and crafts movement in the U.S. The Kalo Shop, founded by Clara Barck Welles and five fellow graduates of the Art Institute of Chicago, focused on objects made of silver. She established a school and went on to teach and employ many women designers and encourage their entrepreneurship. Another Chicagoan, Elinor Klapp, pioneered the use of Native American stones in mounts of old silver and gold. (See the photo of her carved moonstone and silver brooch above). Her son, who co-founded House Beautiful magazine in 1896, often featured her jewelry.
Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art is on display at the Frick Pittsburgh (7227 Reynolds Street, 412-371-0600) through May 10, 2020. The exhibit was organized by the Richard H. Driehaus Museum in Chicago.
Museum Hours: 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday; 10am-9pm, Friday. Closed Monday.
Admission: Members: Free
Youth 6 to 16: $8
Youth 5 and under: Free
More Information: The Frick Pittsburgh