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Press Room

6/6/03

Renwick Gallery Presents "Jewels and Gems" .A Dazzling Display of American Studio Jewelry

Media only:
Laura Baptiste (202) 275-1595
Amy Mannarino (202) 275-1592

Public only: (202) 357-2700
Web site: http://AmericanArt.si.edu/press


The individualistic and groundbreaking jewelry designs in "Jewels & Gems" highlight the spirit, wit and ingenuity of American studio jewelry artists. This exhibition, on view Sept. 26, 2003 through Feb. 8, 2004 at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, contains 131 objects by 97 artists including brooches, necklaces, rings and bracelets in enamels, precious metals and organic elements.

"Jewels & Gems" is the third exhibition in a series that surveys the craft collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum by specific medium—glass, clay, fiber, wood and metal—or by a specific craft category—jewelry, furniture, baskets and quilts.

"The artists in 'Jewels & Gems' are united by their diverse use of disparate materials," said Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The pieces are inventive and will challenge popular views of what jewelry is or should be."

The artists included in the exhibition did not follow in the guild tradition of apprentice, journeyman and master craftsman, but instead were academically trained. Craft jewelry does not have roots in the jewelry industry, and creators think of themselves as artists as much as they do jewelry makers. The maker's purpose is not to produce expensive luxuries or mass-produced costume jewelry, but to create unique works that can range from beautifully and exquisitely crafted to the anti-jewelry aesthetic embodied by studied primitivism.

Contemporary studio jewelry makers developed their own freedom of expression, which in many cases worked specifically against conservative and formal traditions. Jewelry in the past was commonly associated with precious metals and finely cut and set gemstones, manifestations of personal wealth and social status, while studio jewelry extols creativity and imagination.

"The owner of a piece of studio jewelry has invested in the artistic imagination of the maker rather than any precious materials composing the piece," said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery.

In organizing this exhibition, groupings were created to reinforce concepts that are prevalent within contemporary artistic jewelry. The eight themes are: "Redefining Value in Contemporary American Studio Jewelry," "Beginnings of American Studio Art Jewelry," "Design and the Pleasures of Materials," "Ceremony and Display," "The Machine as Inspiration," "Parallels to Other Arts Forms," "Toying with Rings" and "Talismans and Narratives."

In the 1960s, American jewelry makers strove to reinvigorate jewelry with fresh designs and imaginative uses as demonstrated in the grouping, "Beginnings of American Studio Art Jewelry." These early studio jewelers used traditional materials in nontraditional ways. John Paul Miller's "Pendant/Brooch" (1975) suggests a sea creature or floral form drawn from, and in imitation of, nature. The piece is crafted of enamel and granulated gold. Another example is Earl Pardon's "Necklace #1057" (1988), a graphic, industrial piece of sterling silver, 14 carat gold, ebony, ivory, enamel, mother-of-pearl, ruby, garnet, blue topaz, rhodolite, amethyst and spinel. Each link in the chain looks like a computer chip.

The "Machine as Inspiration" grouping shares characteristics such as the absence of color, pristine forms, clean edges, smooth surfaces and geometric designs. Stanley Lechtzin's "Torque" (1972) demonstrates this machine age aesthetic. The jewelry in the "Talismans and Narratives" grouping looks ritualistic and suggests power and authority. They seem to tell a personal narrative, but the viewer doesn't necessarily know what that is. Examples include D.X. Ross's "Tides of the Centuries" (1991) and Mickey Johnston's "Bang-le Bracelet" (1997).

"Jewels & Gems" is organized by the Renwick Gallery with support from Shelby M. and Frederick M. Gans and the James Renwick Alliance.

Kenneth R. Trapp, curator-in-charge, organized the exhibition.


Public Programs
A schedule of public programs, including lectures, craft demonstrations, performances and Family Days is available in a brochure. Call (202) 275-1500 to receive a copy by mail or visit the museum's online program calendar at AmericanArt.si.edu.

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Smithsonian Information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 357-1729 (TTY). Recorded information: (202) 275-1500. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at AmericanArt.si.edu.

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Note to Editors: Additional information and a checklist are available in the museum's online Press Room at http://AmericanArt.si.edu/press. For high-resolution images, call (202) 275-1594.

Luce Center for American Art