Exhibition Review: Maker & Muse, Women and Early 20th Century Art Jewelry

Aquamarine necklace
Figure 1. This aquamarine necklace (c. 1890) by Mrs Philip (Charlotte) Newman, is seen here in its original box. Newman's work inspired artists and designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement. From the collection of Tereza M. M. Driehaus. Photograph by John A. Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.
Maker & Muse, Women and Early 20th Century Art Jewelry, which opened at Chicago’s Driehaus Museum on 14 February 2015, features over 250 pieces of jewellery made during the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements from British, French, German, Austrian and American artisans.
The exhibition, which runs until 3 January 2016, is housed in the opulent Driehaus Museum, a fairly new space housed in the Gilded Age mansion, located in the heart of McCormickville and just a block away from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Built in 1879, the Driehaus Museum was originally the home of the Nickerson family, whose patriarch, Samuel, was a distiller for the Union Army and at one time president of The First National Bank of Chicago. Richard H. Driehaus, who founded the museum in 2003, spent five years restoring it, opening it to the public in 2011. These ever-changing galleries are filled with furnishings, chandeliers and decorative art from the 19th century to early 20th century Driehaus Collection.
The exhibition is housed on the second floor corridor and in bedrooms that were once inhabited by the Nickersons. On the landing is a case containing four pieces of distinctive jewellery, including an aquamarine necklace (figure 1) by Charlotte Newman (1840–1927), who broke through the glass ceiling that women jewellers faced. After the death of her mentor, John Brogden, Newman continued producing pieces in her own workshop. At the 1889 Paris Exposition, just as the Arts and Crafts movement was beginning, she was the only woman listed as a collaborator on the jewellery exhibited. 

The first room of the exhibition is titled “With A Hammer in Her Hand: British Arts and Crafts Jewelry”. As the Arts and Crafts Movement (1890–1910) took hold, simpler designs became the fashion for clothing, and jewellery was made to compliment this change. Brooches, necklaces, clasps and buttons became common accoutrements, while earrings and bracelets fell out of favour. The movement away from industrialisation allowed time for handmade items with natural materials, coloured gems and enamel, which was affordable for many economic classes. Famous British jewellery designers included in this room are Charles Ashbee, Liberty & Company and its designers, Archibald Knox and the Guild of Handicraft, Child & Child, Sybil Dunlop, and Dorrie Nossiter. Husband and wife teams such as the Gaskins and Dawsons also gained acclaim. Notable pieces in this room include the silver blue-enamelled winged tiara set with a central citrine made in 1990 by Child & Child and a pair of life-like horn lily-pad hair combs with moonstone dew drops made in 1906 by Ella Naper (figure 2).

Lily-pad hair combs
Figure 2. English designer Ella Naper completed these lily-pad hair combs circa 1906. From the collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photograph by John A. Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.
Pieces by Tiffany & Company and Marcus & Company, who were in fierce competition, are shown in the next room, which contains items on the theme of “American Art Jewelry”. After his father’s death in 1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany became Tiffany & Co.’s first official design director. He established Tiffany Studios on the sixth floor of the 5th Avenue building at Madison and 45th Streets in New York, which was supervised by artists Julia Munson from 1902 until 1914, and Meta K. Overbeck from 1914 until 1934. Louis Tiffany himself left the studio in 1918.
As a leader of the Art Nouveau movement, Louis Comfort Tiffany is best known for his stained-glass windows and lamps, several of which are exhibited here. Since he was inspired by nature, colour and design, his move into jewellery, particularly his smaller enamelled works, was a natural progression, resulting in beautiful pieces encrusted with opals, garnets, moonstones and jade. The most notable piece by Louis Comfort Tiffany is in the central case, the 1918 platinum, blue zircon, diamond, chrysoberyl, amethyst and demantoid garnet necklace. Marcus & Company rivalled this piece in 1900 with its gold, natural pearl, demantoid garnet and enamelled necklace. In Germany, the Arts and Crafts movement was known as Jugendstil. In Vienna Josef Hoffman founded the Wiener Werkstätte, a cooperative of designers, artists and architects best known for their work on the Fledermaus Cabaret (1907-1913). This movement is encompassed in the exhibition section “Jewelry as Art, Germany and Austria in the Early 20th Century”. Jewellery and objects in this gallery include boxes, dishes and vases mostly made by Josef Hoffman and Karl Rothmuller. One striking piece on display is a silver, opal and mirrored glass pendant created by Josef Hoffman in 1904 (figure 3).

Silver, opal, and glass pendant
Figure 3. Austrian artisan Josef Hoffmann, of the Wiener Werkstätte, completed this silver, opal, and mirrored glass pendant in 1904. From a private collection. Courtesy of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.
The awe-inspiring pieces in “Metamorphosis, The Female Figure in Art Nouveau” are all about the muse: curves, folds, winged sylphs, femme fatale and Medusa, this room is filled with nature-inspired objects. Beautifully crafted art pieces were made for wealthy clients by men such as Rene Lalique, Alphonse Mucha, Louis Aucoc Fils, Georges Fouquet and Maison Vever. Rene Lalique’s stunning gold, enamel, glass, diamond and baroque pearl chrysanthemum pendant/brooch can be found in this room (figure 4).  

Chrysanthemum pendant/brooch
Figure 4. Rene Lalique’s chrysanthemum pendant/brooch, completed c. 1900. From the collection of Richard H. Driehaus. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photograph by John A. Faier, 2014, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.
The final room, “Beautiful, Useful, and Enduring, Chicago Arts and Crafts Jewelry”, is filled with pieces by Chicago-based jewellers such as LeBolt & Company, Elinor Klapp, Madeline Wynn, Florence Koehler, Frances Glessner and the now-defunct Kalo Shop. The Christia Reade crown for the Queen of the Lombard (Illinois) Lilac Festival, still used every year, and made from donated silver spoons, is also on display.
This exhibition is a must see for anyone interested in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau periods. It is a rarity that all of these exquisite pieces are open to public viewing in the same place and at the same time.
The admission fee for the museum is $20.00, which includes the special exhibition. Audio and guided tours are also available for an additional $5.00 each. The museum, located at 40 East Erie, is open every day, except Monday, from 10am to 5pm.

Heidi Harders is an independent gem and jewellery appraiser in Chicago.