Reviews Gems & Gemology, Fall 2015, Vol. 51, No. 3

Books: Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry

Maker & Muse Book Cover
By Elyse Zorn Karlin, Ed., hardcover, 256 pp., publ. by Monacelli Press, New York, 2015, US$50.00.

Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry is a collaborative effort undertaken to accompany the current exhibit of the same name at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum in Chicago. Its 256 pages celebrate the role of women as creator of and inspiration for important jewelry from the turn of the 19th century. It showcases the history of women as jewelry designers, as muses portrayed on the jeweler’s canvas, and as wearers of the art during the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements.

This beautifully illustrated book contains seven well-organized chapters full of insight on the period, covering the British, German, Austrian, and American Arts and Crafts movements from 1890 to 1910 and the French and American Art Nouveau movements from 1900 to 1915. Museum founder Richard H. Driehaus, who owns the majority of the pieces on display, wrote the preface. While collecting decorative arts 15 years ago, he was drawn to a piece of Arts and Crafts jewelry in London. His collection blossomed from there to include Art Nouveau jewelry.

The first two chapters are by the book’s editor and the curator of the exhibit, Elyse Zorn Karlin. Her first chapter is an overview of the women and their jewelry in the early 20th century. Karlin follows with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, which advocated economic and social reform, which is essentially anti-industrial. As a result, there was a greater emphasis on the finished piece art rather than materials.

The next four chapters are essays by the expert curators who had a hand in the other four exhibition rooms at the Driehaus. Each chapter is embellished with remarkable photos of pertinent jewelry and their makers and muse. “Metamorphosis: The Female Figure in Art Nouveau” is written by Yvonne J. Markowitz, curator emerita of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and Emily Banis Stoehrer, curator of jewelry at the same museum. They explain that Art Nouveau jewelry, designed by men (most notably Rene Lalique) and worn by women, is the French high-end answer to the Arts and Crafts movement. The jewels are about natural forms and structures, flowers, plants, and curved lines.  Jeannine Falino, an independent curator for the Museum of Art and Design in New York, writes the next chapter on the American art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose design staff included Julia Munson and Meta Overbeck. These women held the jewelry to the highest standards of artistry and quality. Tiffany branded his products, and the executors became mostly anonymous.

Janis Staggs, author and curator of Neue Galerie in New York, documents the Arts and Crafts movement in Germany and Austria, known as Jugendstil oryouth style,” which brought about a shift in women’s social status as workers, patrons, suffragettes, athletes, artists, and muses.   Well-known designers Josef Hoffman and Karl Rothmuller, along with artist Gustav Klimt, are contributors to this period. Sharon S. Darling, author of Chicago Metalsmiths: An Illustrated History, writes about the Chicago Arts and Crafts movement, where a large number of women worked as professional and amateur jewelers. Of particular note is the hand-wrought Kalo silver workshop, which was founded by six women graduates of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1900. 

The photography, principally by John A. Faier, the editing, and the quality of the paper and printing are superb. This book will find its way into the libraries of scholars, collectors, and professionals interested in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, which still influence jewelry artists more than a century later.

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