C a l d e r   J e w e l r y

a review by Marbeth Schon


This is a review of the book Calder Jewelry edited by Alexander S.C. Rower and Holton Rower with contributions by Mark Rosenthal and Jane Adlin.  It is the book that accompanies the First Exhibition of Alexander Calder's Jewelry, currently at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach Florida until June 15, 2008.

Louisa Calder’s 53rd Birthday Gift pin, 1958
Gold and steel wire, 2 1/2 x 5 1/4 inches, Inscription: "XIX.II.LVIII"
Private Collection, New York,
© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York

When I received the book Calder Jewelry I was immediately impressed by the stunning photographs by Maria Robledo--incredibly beautiful on backgrounds that make them as much works of art as the jewelry. There are hundreds of them--full page size at about 12" x 9-3/4" and the pages are thick--this is a big book!
To most people, Calder was a sculptor--many are surprised to learn that he made jewelry. The exhibit at the Norton Museum is the first to be devoted exclusively to Alexander Calder's jewelry and includes approximately 100 objects including necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings and tiaras.  Throughout his life Calder produced more than 1800 jewelry objects, each made entirely by hand. 
The text of the book gives a rather intimate look at Calder's life and work, perhaps because jewelry was his most intimate art form. "Jewelry making was very personal for him and each piece exists as an individual work of art."
Calder made some of his earliest pieces for Louisa James whom he married in 1931.  "He made hundreds of gifts for her: sculptures, drawings, household inventions, and untold numbers of jewelry that she wore in her daily life."

Necklace, c. 1938 Brass wire, glass, and mirror Loop: 35 1/2 inches; flower: 8 x 8 inches
 Inscription: “CS”
Private Collection, New York
© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York

"Founded on his lively linear style, [Calder's] work had the quality of drawing in space." Part of the uniqueness of his jewelry has to do with movement--either actual or implied. And like some other modernist jewelers of the early 20th century (such as Sam Kramer), he used "all manner of objects...including stones, bits of discarded pottery, and glass."

Necklace, c. 1940 Brass wire 8 1/8 x 6 3/4 x 4 1/2 inches, Inscription: “CS”
Private Collection New York
© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York

Like the jewelry of ancient cultures Calder's jewelry ornamented the body.  He said, "Simplicity of equipment and an adventurous spirit in attacking the unfamiliar or unknown are apt to result in a primitive and vigorous art...I decided a long time ago that primitive art really is preferable to decadent art...So I've remained as primitive as possible."

Necklace, c. 1943
 Silver wire, string, and ribbon Loop: 15 3/4 inches; element length: 5 1/4 inches Inscription: “Calder”
Private Collection, New York
© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York

Though considered " wearable art", much of Calder's jewelry was almost too big to wear--"un-wearable jewelry."  Though similarities can be seen in the work of Art Smith and Calder, they appear to have had adverse philosophies: Smith's work was made to adorn the body--to meld with it in a complete biomorphic union and Calder's "may be seen as a sort of Surrealistic strategy to entrap the wearer into participating in an art performance, even to become bewitched."

Top: Bracelet, c. 1945 Silver wire 4 9/16 x 2 3/4 x 2 5/16 inches
Inscription: “Calder” Private Collection
© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York

The first gallery to display Calder's jewelry was the Fifty-Sixth Street Galleries in New York in a 1929 show titled "Alexander Calder: Paintings, Wood, Sculpture, Jewelry, Textiles." In 1937 he showed his jewelry at Freddy Mayor's gallery in London and in 1938 at the Artek Gallery in Helsinki. 

In 1940 Marian Willard agreed to show his jewelry in her prestigious gallery in New York.  She was very interested in presenting the jewelry as art, creating a beautiful and effective installation that attracted buyers from "East Coast society, artists, curators, writers, as well as unknown admirers.  The works ranged from a pair of brass cufflinks made into earrings that sold for $10.00 to Mrs. Rosenberg, to a silver necklace with red cord that sold for $125.00 to Mrs. Ronald Balcolm."

Bracelet, c. 1948, Silver wire, 2 3/4 x 6 x 4 inches
Private Collection
© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York

The influence of Calder's hand-wrought one-of-a-kind jewelry can be seen in the jewelry of younger post World War II American studio jewelers such as Ed Wiener, Art Smith, and Claire Falkenstein and many openly credit Calder's inspiration. "It was Calder from whom I gained a most profound insight," said Ed Wiener, "As I began to see more of Calder's wire jewelry, I recognized a craft so specific in its limitation as to appear crude and anti-craft, yet visually very sophisticated. Joined with hammered rivits, polished with a hammer face, the result was a thin textured surface tension, bursting with energy, ready to ring if struck."

Pin, c. 1945, Silver and steel wire,  4 1/4 x 6 3/4 inches
Private Collection
© 2007 Calder Foundation, New York

"For Calder, sculpture, design, and fashion did not so much collide but joined harmoniously in the making of his unique form of jewelry."

All quotations are taken from Calder Jewelry

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