Exhibition Review: Maker & Muse, Women of the 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 of the 20th Century Art Jewelry, which opened at Chicago’s Driehaus Museum on February 14, 2015, features over 250 pieces of jewelry made during the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements from British, French, German, Austrian, and American artisans.
The exhibit, which runs through January 3, 2016, is housed in the opulent Driehaus Museum, a fairly new space housed in Gilded Age mansion, located in the heart of McCormickville and 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 exhibit is housed on the second floor hallway and in bedrooms that were once inhabited by the Nickersons. At the top of the landing is a case of four pieces of distinctive jewelry, including an aquamarine necklace (figure 1), by Charlotte Newman (1840–1927), who broke through the glass ceiling of women jewelers. 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 jewelry exhibited. 

The first room of the exhibit 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 the jewelry was made to compliment this change. Brooches, necklaces, clasps, and buttons were became common accoutrements, while earrings and bracelets fell out of favor. The movement away from industrialization allowed time for handmade items with natural materials, colored gems, and enamel which was affordable for many economic classes. Famous British jewelry 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 enameled winged tiara set with a central citrine made in 1990 by Child and Child and a pair of life-like horn lily pad hair combs with moonstone drew 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.
Tiffany & Company and Marcus & Company, who were in fierce competition, are shown in the next room, themed “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, color, and design, his move into jewelry, particularly his smaller enameled 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 and Company rivaled this piece with it 1900 gold, natural pearl, demantoid garnet and enameled necklace. In Germany, the Arts and Crafts movement was known as Jugendstil. In Vienna it was founded by Josef Hoffman of the Wiener Werkstätte as a cooperation of designers, artists and architects best known for their work on the Fledermaus Caberet (1907-1913). This movement is encompassed in “Jewelry as Art, Germany and Austria in the Early 20th Century.” Jewelry 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, 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 is 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 Chicago-based jewelers 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 exhibit 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 time.
The admission fee to the museum is $20.00 which includes the special exhibit. 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 jewelry appraiser in Chicago.