A M E R I C A N   M O D E R N I S T






1940 - 1970
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Fort Wayne, Indiana is currently presenting one of the most comprehensive exhibits of modernist jewelry ever to be displayed in one venue.  Through August 24th, 2008, jewelry and sculpture from over fifty prominent collectors is being shown in an exhibit titled American Modernist Jewelry, 1940 - 1970

A collateral exhibit titled The Modernist Movement and Beyond, The Works of Peter Macchiarini and Daniel Macchiarini, Earl Pardon and Tod Pardon took place at the School for Creative Arts, University of St. Francis, also in Fort Wayne.

The accompanying full color catalog titled Form & Function, American Modernist Jewelry 1940 - 1970 published by Schiffer, Ltd. is now available.

Please click here for a slideshow review of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's exhibit, American Modernist Jewelry, 1940 - 1970.

The following is a short preview of the exhibit and catalog.
Though the span of the exhibit is 1940 - 1970, one cannot overlook the defining changes that took place in the arts in the 1930s.  As socialists took power in many European countries, artistic taste shifted toward architecture and industrial design. The ideas of the German School of the Bauhaus,  based on the credo of "dedication to the unity of the arts with the crafts," were dispersed through the teachings of modernists such as Walter Gropius, Meis Van Der Rohe, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Marguerite and Franz Wildenhain, Anni and Joseph Albers, and Trude Guermonprez who sought safety in the United States before and during World War II.

Schools such as Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan that reaped the benefits of these enlightened minds from Europe, forever changed the way crafts were taught and formidably impacted the American crafts movement.

Harry Bertoia, necklace, gold, 9” x 8-1/2”.

Courtesy of Mark McDonald, 555 Warren St., Hudson, New York, photograph by Bill Hibbs.


The 1940s saw the birth of craft organizations in the United States. In 1940 The Handcraft Cooperative League of America opened America House in New York City. This was the first significant retail outlet to acquaint the public with the richness and uniqueness of American crafts.

 In 1942 The American Craftsmen’s Cooperative Council was founded and the magazine Craft Horizons began publication. In 1943 the American Craftsmen’s Educational Council, Inc. was inaugurated. Much of the impetus to organize American craftsmen emanated from the actions of one very influential person, Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb, a wealthy copper heiress who was moved by the hardships she witnessed during the Great Depression to do something to strengthen the market for crafts in the United States and later throughout the world.

Peter Macchiarini, Rakov, sculpture: bronze, red/brown patina, base:wood, c.1936.

Courtesy of Daniel Macchiarini, photograph by Leslie W.Rabine.


During and after World War II metalsmithing proved to be exceptional occupational therapy for returning GI’s. This was the justification for new programs in metalsmithing and jewelry making at various American colleges such as Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, the University of Kansas, and Indiana University. Similar “socially commendable” programs were set up at The War Veteran’s Art Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Much credit is due metalsmith/jeweler Margret Craver for her tireless work setting up hospital service programs sponsored by Handy and Harman (a metals refining company) at each of the Army's thirteen commands to rehabilitate veterans through wire working. After the war (from 1947 - 1951) Craver was responsible for workshops (also funded by Handy and Harman), taught by experienced metalsmiths from Europe, to train American teachers in the the knowledge and techniques of the craft of silversmithing.  These workshops played a vital role in the expansion of metals programs at American colleges and universities--many attendees became influential teachers who set up long-lasting, seminal metalsmithing departments at their respective schools.

Margret Craver Withers sketching out a design, 1946.

Courtesy of the Margret Craver Withers papers, 1926 – 1992, in the Archives of America Art, Smithsonian Institution.


The 1950s

The late 1940s and 1950s saw the beginnings of exhibits featuring American modernist jewelry. In 1946 the Museum of Modern Art mounted their unconventional exhibit, Modern Handmade Jewelry. The exhibit mixed jewelry made by artists and sculptors such as Richard Poussette-Dart, Alexander Calder, Jacques Lipschitz with that of actual working jewelers such as Paul Lobel, Margaret De Patta, and Adda Husted-Andersen.

The progressive Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota followed with an exhibit in 1948 titled Modern Jewelry Under Fifty Dollars. The work of thirty-two innovative artist/jewelers was included and each piece was priced under fifty dollars. Many of the participants of this exhibit had been producing modernist jewelry and metalwork since the 1930s and early 1940s—Margaret De Patta, Sam Kramer, Paul Lobel, Art Smith, Harry Bertoia, Philip Morton, and Adda Husted-Andersen were among them.

Harry Bertoia, brooch, sterling silver. 4-1/2” x 3”.

Courtesy of Mark McDonald, 555 Warren St., Hudson,New York, photograph by Bill Hibbs.


Alexander Calder, cuff, sterling silver, 2-1/2” x 2-1/8”.

Courtesy of Mark McDonald, 555 Warren St., Hudson, New York, photograph by Bill Hibbs.


The Walker Art Center presented two exhibits of contemporary jewelry (on paper), in 1955 and 1959, in their Design Quarterly publications (issue #33, 1955 and double issue #45 – 46, 1959). The 1955 exhibit of the work of eighty-four jewelers from across the country reflected the burgeoning and broadening interest in metalworking in the mid-1950s.

Some of the exhibitors at the 1955 Walker exhibit included Adda Husted-Andersen, Mildred Ball, Harry Bertoia, Eleanor Caldwell, Betty Cooke, Robert Dhaemers, Virginia Dudley, Robert and Audrey Engstrom, Sam Kramer, Mary Kretsinger, Philip Morton, Caroline Rosene, Earl Pardon, Miriam Smith Peck, Coralyn Pence, Barney M. Reid, merry renk, Florence Resnikoff, Ruth Roach, George K. Salo, Christian Schmidt, Pearl Shecter, Byron Wilson, and Bob Winston.

Bob Winston, pendant, sterling silver, ebony, claw, ivory, brass, leather cord, pendant: 5-3/4” x 5-3/4”.

 Collection of Joanne and Fred Doloresco,photograph by Fred Doloresco,

Illustrated in Design Quarterly #33,1955, pg. 12.


Sam Kramer, pendant, sterling silver, moonstone, 3-1/2” x 2-1/4”.

Collection of Jill Crawford, photograph by Shirley Byrne.

The 1959 Walker Art Center exhibit on paper contained photographs of the work of eighty-eight jewelers but was double the size of the 1955 issue of Design Quarterly. Some of the exhibitors included Mildred Ball, Francis Holmes Boothby, Irena Brynner, Eleanor Caldwell, Betty Cooke, Margaret De Patta, Robert Dhaemers, Virginia Dudley, Alma Eikerman, Robert and Audrey Engstrom, Elsa Freund, Richard Gompf, Clifford Herrold, Michael Jerry, Sam Kramer, Earl Krentzin, Mary Kretsinger, John Paul Miller, Philip Morton, Ronald Hayes Pearson, Ruth Penington, Miriam Smith Peck, John Prip, merry renk, Svetozar and Ruth Radakovich, Florence Resnikoff, Walter Rhodes, Ruth Roach, Pearl Shecter, Nancy Sherwood, Mary Schimpff, Christian Schmidt, Byron Wilson, and Bob Winston.

Margaret De Patta, brooch, sterling silver, chrysoprase, carnelian, 3-1/2” long.

Illustrated: Design 1935-1965, What Modern Was, ed. Martin Eidelberg, Le Musée desArts Décoratifs de Montréal, Courtesy of Historical Design, Inc., photo ©HD, Inc.


By the mid-1940s there was an increased number of metalsmiths living and working in the United States. Greenwich Village and other Bohemian quarters of New York City became strongholds for jewelers who had either been educated at art and design schools or were self-taught. Conditions in the United States after World War II were “ripe” for the ensuing craft revival. Returning GI’s, many who had been trained during the war as mechanics, machinists, or engineers found that they could creatively transfer these skills into metalworking. Under the GI bill, veterans had free access to training programs in metals available at several universities, museum schools, and craft centers. Crafts offered a new “way of life”—a less stressful, hands-on life style after the dehumanizing traumas of the war years.

Some of the more well-known modernist jewelers working in and close to Greenwich Village in the 1940s and early 1950s were Bob and Esta Blood, Arthur King, Sam Kramer, Idella La Vista, Ed Levin, Paul Lobel, Frank Miraglia, Frank Rebajes, George Salo, Art Smith, Henry Steig, Bill Tendler, Paul Voltaire, Ed Wiener, and Armand Winfield.

Sam Kramer, framed sash buckle with detachable brooch, 20-1/5” high x 9-5/8” wide (overall), frame and background: rosewood, patinated copper, sculpture/buckle: 6-1/4” high x 4” wide, sterling silver, copper, jade, citrine.

Collection of Ken Dukoff, The Dukoff Collection,

Photograph by Paul J. Toussaint.


Bob and Esta Blood, necklace, sterling and ebony, 15” (circumference).

Collection of Munir Meghji, photograph by Munir Meghji.

The 1960s

A dialogue between American and European artist/craftsmen began in the 1960s; The World Crafts Council was inaugurated in 1964, the exchange of ideas among craftsmen was spawned by international travel and several international craft exhibitions were held.

In 1964, at Columbia University in New York at the American Craft Council’s fifth conference, Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb founded the World Crafts Council, a UNESCO affiliate. She served, first as its president and then as an honorary officer. In a speech at that conference, Mrs.Webb said:

…The year 1964, will, we believe, be another landmark in the world history of the crafts—a beginning of great things. If the contemplated World Association of Craftsmen becomes a reality as the result of action on the part of the delegates to the First World Congress of Craftsmen, a wonderful future is opened to the craftsmen of the world. The problems will be many and complicated, for the conception of craftsmanship differs widely in many areas. This solution will come by trail and error, by patience over the years and constant adherence to the ultimate goal.

The basic desires of all will be the same as they have been in the U.S.—to provide markets for the work of each country’s craftsmen, to educate the people of the world to the value of craftsmanship, and lastly, to bring this about through proper leadership and in a spirit not of competition but of cooperation. In this spirit, craftsmen can move mountains and can lead not only in the practical but also in the spiritual field. Their cooperative attitude can not only help to achieve their own success, but can point the way towards a solution of many problems that beset mankind on this weary but still living and wonderful planet. For craftsmen it is an exciting time to be alive, for the future is theirs for the making. May such a challenge be met with vision and enthusiasm.

The opening of the World Congress of Craftsmen was June 8 –19, 1964. In 1965 Stanley Lechtzin and Olaf Skoogfors traveled to Europe to visit Freidrich Becker, Reinhold Reiling, Claus Bury, Max Fröhlich, Sigurd Persson, Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins.


Stanley Lechtzin, Torque, electroformed silver gilt, amethyst, moontones, 8” x 18”.

Courtesy of Stanley Lechtzin.


Olaf Skoogfors, pendant, sterling silver, constructed, pendant: 5-3/4”,11-1/2” x 6”(overall), c.1974.

Courtesy of Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge,Massachusetts.


The 1970s and Beyond

Jeweler Bruce Metcalf, in his essay On the Nature Jewelry, speaks about a new type of jeweler who feels responsible to concepts and ideals alongside the economic demands of making a living. Many jewelers insist that their production be completely divorced from the marketplace. To some, jewelry has become a pure expression of thought and feeling, and less connected to the traditional roles of ornament. Stripped of the familiar codes and functions, jewelry has become a modern art form.


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