Scale-wise, this is not an exhibition on par with last year’s “Jewelry: The Body Transformed,” but its size in no way undermines the appeal of the Met’s latest jewelry attraction, “Jewelry for America,” which opened last week and will run through April, 5, 2020.
“Because ‘Jewelry: The Body Transformed’ covered such a vast range of history, and all 17 of the museum’s curatorial areas, we weren’t able to include many examples of American jewelry,” says Beth Carver Wees, the Ruth Bigelow Wriston Curator of American Decorative Arts, who works primarily on silver and jewelry. “I have been building up and researching the jewelry collection in the American Wing for nearly 20 years, so we decided it was a good time to tell that story.”
As such, Wees curated the treasures thematically, pulling from five Met departments: the American Wing; Modern and Contemporary Art; Drawings and Prints; Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and the Costume Institute.
The 100 objects and designs are displayed within a sociohistorical format, starting with sentimental jewelry from the 17th and 18th centuries. Produced by local silversmiths and jewelers, some of the earliest jewelry worn in America incorporated human hair, carved cameos, or painted miniatures.
The founding of firms such as Gorham and Tiffany & Co. is addressed, as are the effects of the 1849 Gold Rush and 1859 discovery of silver in Nevada’s Comstock Lode on jewelry production and distribution.
Native American jewelry from the Southwest, costume jewelry produced in American manufactures, David Webb’s iconic Zebra bracelet, and works by modernist artists such as Alexander Calder, and contemporary voices such as Mary Lee Hu, William Harper, and Daniel Brush, round out the collection.
The photos below offer a snapshot of what you can expect to see.
Top: Egyptian Revival brooch, circa 1900, in gold, amethyst, demantoid garnet, and enamel, Theodore B. Starr (all photos © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
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