Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry

Exhibition Themes

Mrs. W.H. (Elinor) Klapp (American, 1845-1915), Brooch, c. 1895-1914. Collection of the Bronson Family

The early twentieth century fostered several “art” jewelry movements which turned their back on mainstream jewelry, railed against the mass production of jewelry, and focused on women in a number of different ways. These movements took place in Great Britain, on the European continent, and in the United States, with Chicago being a major center for the creation of art jewelry.

Stunning examples of necklaces, brooches, bracelets, pins, rings, jeweled and enameled boxes, pendants, buckles, cloak clasps, accessories, and tiaras are featured in Maker & Muse. Each of the Museum’s second-floor galleries is devoted to jewelry showcasing the five areas of design and fabrication: the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Art Nouveau in France and Belgium, Jugendstil in Germany and Austria, Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York, and American Arts and Crafts in Chicago. Each gallery explores the historic social milieu associated with these movements, accompanied by selected contextual objects of the period.

British Arts and Crafts
Great Britain was the birthplace of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Up until this time women have never been known as jewelers. While they may have worked with their spouses, a female name was never attached to jewelry as it would not have been considered appropriate. Around 1900, for the first time ever, we see women emerge as jewelers whose names are associated with their work. Some are known on their own, while others as part of a husband and wife team. The Driehaus Collection contains many significant pieces by such artists as Edith Dawson, Georgie Gaskin, Kate Eadie and Ella Naper.

The exhibition will begin with the jewelry of Mrs. Newman who paved the way for these women. She worked first as an assistant to important revivalist jeweler John Brogden and then on her own. The Driehaus Collection includes a necklace by Mrs. Newman, one of the very few in collections in the United States. Through study of The Studio Magazine and other records additional lesser known women jewelers continue to be discovered. A portion of the jewelry will also feature women as the subject of the jewelry. This is not a common theme in British Arts & Crafts jewelry but yet there are some excellent examples by important designers such as Charles Robert Ashbee and Archibald Knox in the Driehaus Collection.

Within the context of the British Arts & Crafts movement jewelry crafted by men intended to be worn with women’s Reform clothing will be on view as well as jewels associated with the Suffragist movement to which the Arts & Crafts jewelers were very sympathetic.

Art Nouveau
The role of women in Art Nouveau jewelry is quite different than in Great Britain due to social mores, political issues, and economic events in France. In fact, only one woman jeweler is well-known as a maker in the French/Belgian Art Nouveau Movement - Elizabeth Bonté. Her carved horn jewelry was imitative of the work of René Lalique. This is a significant difference from the British Art jewelry movement and there is a fascinating explanation for why this is so. Women become the central theme of the jewelry in various ways—depicted as ethereal beauties, half woman, half-insect hybrids, and as frightening predators like Salomé and Medusa showing the confused thoughts of French men about women at this time. The role of actress/courtesans like Sarah Bernhardt and Liane de Pougy who patronized René Lalique and Alphonse Mucha will be an important part of this discussion as well as the socio-historic contexts that influenced this jewelry.

Artistic jewelry was created in Germany and Austria is known as Jugendstil.  In Germany it was manifested in various design forms sometimes looking like English Arts and Crafts, other pieces akin to the curving French Art Nouveau, and some that was more geometric like the work of Wiener Werkstätte in Austria. 

This important design workshop was formed by architects, artists, and designers who broke away from the established art societies and adopted the name the Wiener Werkstätte (translation: Vienna’s Workshops). Although none of its jewelry designers were women, the jewelry was carefully designed as the accompaniment to the art clothing created in the workshops and intended to be compatible with the workshops’ interior design as well. The role of Emilie Flöge, clothing designer and companion of painter Gustav Klimt who was closely aligned with the founders of the Wiener Werkstätte will be explored. Flöge was known to wear Wiener Werkstätte jewelry and to design clothing similar to the Wiener Werkstätte’s clothing. She also had her salon designed by Josef Hoffmann, one of the founding members. Other wealthy patrons of the workshops who wore the clothing and jewelry to show their appreciation of the Wiener Werkstätte aesthetic will also be discussed.

Louis Comfort Tiffany
Louis Comfort Tiffany holds his own place in the art jewelry world and forms a connection to the important holdings in the Driehaus Collection. The exhibition will feature the jewelry which was designed and worked on by women in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio and illustrate the relationship to the Museum’s historic interiors and decorative arts collection. It was worn by American women with a certain aesthetic who appreciated the unusual jewelry. Although Tiffany was the son of the founder of Tiffany & Co. his work is quite different than the mainstream jewelry being produced by his father’s firm.

Chicago Jewelers
The Chicago connection is a significant one as it was an important center for Arts & Crafts jewelry in America, second perhaps only to Boston in the early 20th century. The most important firm, and the one with great longevity, was the Kalo Shop founded by Clara Barck Welles. Many of the male jewelers who later had their own shops and became well known in their own right, trained with Welles. Welles hired female designers she called her “Kalo Girls.” There are also several other designers from Chicago whose work is well-known today. The exhibition will feature a selection of works by these renowned designers.

Mrs. W.H. (Elinor) Klapp (American, 1845-1915), Brooch, c. 1895-1914. Collection of the Bronson Family. Photograph by Firestone and Parson.