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Spy Decoder Ring

1995 Barbara Walter Born: Clarendon Hills, Illinois 1952 sterling silver with plastic 1 5/8 x 1 1/4 x 5/8 in. (4.1 x 3.2 x 1.6 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Sylvia and Eric Elsesser 2002.72.4A-E Renwick Gallery
2nd Floor, Room 203

Luce Center Quote

“The myriad connotations of words allow messages to be misconstrued---often, as in puns, with humorous results.” Artist quoted in Touch of a Finger; Turn of a Phrase: Ring Toys of Barbara Walter

Luce Center Label

Spy Decoder Ring recalls the plastic decoder rings that once came in cereal boxes. Here the artist plays with the notion of espionage as a romantic childhood fantasy. If the author and the recipient of the encoded message have the same cipher, or code, each may translate the written text into understandable phrases. The four figures on the ring function as handles to move the alphabet around, but, dressed in business clothes, they also call to mind the spies who blend in with ordinary citizens.


Dress - accessory - hat

Figure group

Object - other - luggage

Occupation - crime - spy

decorative arts - jewelry

Crafts - Metal

metal - silver


About Barbara Walter

Born: Clarendon Hills, Illinois 1952

More works in the collection by
Barbara Walter