The Wearable Art Movement

Part I

by Marbeth Schon


Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars
The 2nd Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Jewelry
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
March, 1948


The 2nd Annual exhibition of Contemporary jewelry was held at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in the spring of 1948. It was a show of innovative modernist jewelry  exhibited on the walls of the center's  gallery as wearable art.  

1930s Modernist painting 
 American artist Ivan Hoon

It was inevitable, given the world climate of the 1940s and the decade preceding, which were indelibly influenced by the changes brought about by the Second World War and the emergence of  Dada, Surrealism, and abstraction within the fine arts, that the plastic arts would also undergo revolutionary changes.
In the early 1940s, a new movement in jewelry design was beginning in the United States. American artist craftsmen, "spurred on by the devastation of World War II, the trauma of the Holocaust, the fear of the bomb, the politics of prejudice, the sterility of industrialization, and crassness of commercialism.....chose to express their frustration with society’s conventions through the most intimate art form: Jewelry"1
These were the formative years for modernist jewelry which was derived in large part from the modernism of the fine arts.  Modernist jewelers rejected the prevailing decorative styles inspired by Renaissance or Victorian jewelry. Art Deco was also attacked for it’s rigidity. Art Nouveau pieces were destroyed deliberately in order to "liberate' the materials."2  Modernist jewelry more closely identified itself as an art form than a craft form. Jewelers thought of their pieces as fine art to wear and their shops were small galleries or museums.  This new jewelry appealed to the young "liberal, intellectual fringe" of middle-class American collectors who championed modern art.3


Harry Bertoia,
Silver pins
Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars, 1948

Alexander Calder and Harry Bertoia made artistic jewelry in their studios as early as the 1930s, but their pieces were intended mostly as gifts for family and friends.  Frank Rebajes had a modern jewelry shop in 1934, but many historians believe that the beginnings of "contemporary jewelry" can be traced to Sam Kramer’s Surrealist-inspired jewelry of 1936. Surrealist art was an attempt to give free rein to the subconscious as a source of creativity and to liberate pictorial ideas from traditional associations.4 

Sam Kramer, Silver pin with sea shell, moonstone, glass eye
Cast silver pin with Indian emerald
Silver pin with amethyst, two peridots

 exhibited: Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars, 1948

Sam Kramer found inspiration in accidentally spilled metal while working on a new casting technique. He wrote that the accident started him thinking about "how silver and gold could be blasted by flame until it ran almost fluid then controlled, built-upon and fused again until it resulted in small sculptures with the texture and all the flame-like movement of this kind of primal ordeal by fire."5 
This technique of rapid heating and fusing of metal has a comparison in the painting of Jackson Pollock where a loaded brush is used and the work is fluid and only partially controlled.
Before and during WWII, America became a haven for émigré artists from Europe and fertile ground for new modernist ideas to take root. Joseph and Anni Albers set up a Buahaus-type program at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the early 1930s, Gropius, Breuer, and Moholy-Nagy immigrated to the U.S. from England in 1937 and Mies van der Rohe and Herbert Bayer came from Germany. These talented designers became teachers at universities in the United States and set up programs of study based on the principles of the Bauhaus.  
One of the most famous of the modern studio jewelers who exhibited at the Walker Exhibit in 1948 was Margaret De Pata who studied at the School of Design in Chicago in 1941 with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.  Moholy-Nagy had been a teacher at the Bauhaus in Berlin and had developed  courses which involved abstract work in different materials and forms.6 

Margaret De Patta,
Silver pin
Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars, 1948

De Patta’s work shows the influence of Maholy-Nagy in her use of semi-transparent stones which manipulate light and especially her silver pin with stainless steel screen which bears a resemblance to a Moholy-Nagy photogram. "Moholy-Nagy had experimented with three-dimensional construction, light modulator, space modulators, the transition of light through plastic sheets and kineticism." 

There were also many others not related to the Bauhuas movement who were significant influences on American design. During the war, these influences and innovations had time to be absorbed into the consciousness of American designers who adopted and incorporated them into their work until they became the foundation of modern design in the United States.7 

Modernist jewelers also turned to ancient non-western jewelry for inspiration. Margaret De Patta was inspired by her exposure to ancient Columbian, Turkish, Egyptian, Etruscan, and Mayan jewelry. 
The exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, Modern Handmade Jewelry, was one of the first to acknowledge "wearable art as a movement in America." The show included one hundred-thirty-five pieces of jewelry and had an objective of bringing together the "artist as jeweler" and "jeweler as artist." Well known artists such as Alexander Calder and Jacques Lipchitz exhibited next to emerging studio jewelers such as Margaret De Patta and Sam Kramer. This show and the following exhibits at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1948, 1955, and 1959, showed the degree of artistic recognition achieved by a small group of artist jewelers in bringing jewelry into the realm of art after the end of WWII.8

The Walker Exhibit of 1948

The 2nd Annual exhibition of Contemporary jewelry held at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in the spring of 1948 was titled  Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars and it's  sponsor was  the Everyday Art Gallery directed by Hilda Reiss. It was packaged as a traveling exhibit by Bill Friedman, Assistant director of the Walker art Center and toured for two years stimulating interest in contemporary jewelry throughout the country.

Hurst & Kingsbury
  Silver & moonstone pin

The Walker Art center searched the country  and found thirty-two  innovative artist jewelers and presented their work in March at the Everyday Art Gallery. Every piece shown had a price tag lower than $50.00, thus the title Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars. There were two hundred-eighty-two items in the exhibition and more than sixty pieces were sold that month at the Everyday Art Gallery.
Only seven of the these artists had been represented in the Museum of Modern Art exhibit of 1946. They were Ward Bennett, Harry Bertoia, Margaret De Patta, Hurst-Kingsbury, Fred Farr, Adda Hustid-Andersen, & Paul Lobel.9
The Walker Art Center's publication Everyday Art Quarterly,  A Guide to Well Designed Products, Spring, 1948, speaks of the changes in objects of everyday use during the first half of the 20th century–"designers have used new materials and new forms to produce objects suited to our present-day way of life. In jewelry design, however, few changes had been seen . :..the same stars, clusters, rosettes, floral motifs, and other traditional shapes that have been used for centuries."  The magazine then goes on to recognize a new jewelry movement–one where artists and craftsmen were beginning to experiment with new jewelry forms, not only using the traditional metals of gold and silver, but also aluminum, brass, copper, plastics, and ceramics. The craftsmen creating these new designs were offering them from their studios and from specialty shops to a receptive public.
The magazine also contained a review of the exhibit,  photographs of most of the jewelry, and a list of the participating artists with addresses.  The reviewer made these comments, "Jewelry is worn for two reasons: for it’s preciousness, or for it’s decorative value. Precious stones or genuine pearls are, above all, a sign of the affluence of the wearer and must be judged by different standards. But jewelry made of less valuable materials–costume jewelry–should be regarded as part of the wearer’s clothing; its main function is to enhance a person’s appearance, to be genuinely decorative. The majority of the pieces in the exhibition achieve this desirable decorative quality. Others are more in the nature of miniature sculpture." 10
The setting for the exhibit was simple and modern,  but beautiful.  The jewelry was displayed on the walls of the gallery in rectangular cases framed on each side with large triangular sections. 
The exhibit was seminal, having a lasting affect on the modern jewelry movement and it's artisans. Art Smith credited the 1948 Walker show with drawing  national attention to his work and making it possible for him to sell his pieces in several craft shops across the country in addition to his own store in New York"11

Art Smith
brass cuff bracelet

Of the thirty-two jewelers exhibiting at the Walker, ten were from New York which was a stronghold of modernist jewelry shops, Paul Lobel and Art Smith on West Fourth Street, Sam Kramer on West 8th Street. Seven were from California. "Although many Modernist jewelers in New York operated their own shops, most California metalsmiths marketed their jewelry through craft galleries, outdoor art festivals, and other venues sympathetic to the cause of modern art."12  Margaret De Patta, and Bob Winston were from the San Francisco Bay Area.  There were several exhibitors from the Midwest; Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois; one from New Jersey; one from Washington, D.C.;  one from Michigan; and one from Massachusetts.

Exhibitors in the 2nd Annual exhibition of Contemporary jewelry
Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars

Images of jewelry in this section are from Everyday Art Quarterly #7, 1948, published in connection with the exhibition, Modern Jewelry Under Fifty Dollars
 courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

David Aaron,
Washington, D.C. 

Brass barrette
Aluminum pin
Flexible aluminum neckpiece

Evelyn Bach
 Pin, enamel on silver; design in red, blue, and silver wire.
Ward Bennett
New York

  Brass pendants

Franz Bergmann
 Pendant, silver and Brazilian crystal
 Silver pin with opal, rose quartz, and lapis
 Gold earrings
 "King pin", silver and smoky quartz.
Harry Bertoia
Silver pins
William De Hart
New York 
Silver & enamel barrette
Frog pin, silver and operculum cat eyes
Silver and enamel pin and earrings.
Margaret De Patta 
Silver pins, one with pearl and one with crystal
Silver pin
Bess Diamond
Copper pin
Claire Falkenstein

Silver wire pin
Brass stickpin "Articulation with spines"

Fred Farr
New York 

Flexible silver fish stickpin
Silver fish with spines

Doris Hall

Free form pin, enamel on silver
Two pins, enamel on copper

Fannie Hillsmith
New York 

Pin of composition stone and wire

Hurst & Kingsbury
New York 
Silver pin
Adda Husted-Andersen
 New York 
Earrings, silver & enamel

Phyllis W. Jacobs

Ceramic pin
Sam Kramer
New York 
Silver pin with sea shell, moonstone, glass eye
Cast silver pin with Indian emerald
Silver pin with amethyst, two
Frank Lee
New York 
Pin & earrings set, enamel on copper
Paul A. Lobel
New York 

Pin, silver and black plastic

Louis A. McMillen
Silver pins
Keith Monroe
California Pendant 
Pendant, silver and ebony
Earrings, brass and ebony
Pendant; bone and ebony
Philip Morton

Silver & ebony pin
Silver earrings

Marianna Pineda

Sterling repousse pin with turquoise

Richard P. Raseman
Bracelet & pin, silver
Necklaces, silver and leather
Walter Rhodes
New York

Silver brooch

New York

Cast silver earrings

Caroline Gleick Rosene

Silver bracelets
 silver and crystal pin

Zahara Schatz New York  

 Laminated plastic with bits of wire, sequins, colored materials

Pearl S. Shecter
 New York 

Silver comb

Art Smith
 New York 


Brass & copper wishbone earrings
two silver cufflinks
brass collar

Winfield Fine Art Jewelry
 New Jersey

pendants and earrings
various materials encased in plastic
Bob Winston
 California Cast 

silver & quartz ring
 cast silver pin with three stones

Short biographies of some of the jewelers who exhibited in The 2nd Annual exhibition of Contemporary jewelry  at the Walker Art Center
Modern Jewelry under fifty dollars


David Aaron was a sculptor and designer who trained at the Institute of Design in Chicago and was head of the Design Workshop at the King-Smith school in Washington, D.C. 

Franz Bergman (1898-1977) studied at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (1918-1920). He began as a painter and later turned to ceramics and jewelry. He emigrated to the US in 1925, taught at the Presidio of San Francisco, The California School of Fine Arts, and Mills College. Irena Brynner worked with him for a time and executed some of his jewelry.

Harry Bertoia (1915-1978) was born in Italy, coming to the U.S. in 1930. He was a multifaceted artist who worked  in graphic arts, hand-hammered brass jewelry, industrially produced steel wire furniture and kinetic sculpture. He studied at the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts and received a scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1937. He went to California and worked with Charles and Ray Eames in the 1940s and later designed furniture for Knoll. He opened his own studio in 1950 in Pennsylvania where he created sculpture for which he received numerous awards and accolades. 
Ward Bennet was the art director for Hattie Carnegie, exhibited in Modern Jewelry Design at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946 He worked mostly in cut-out silver forms of abstract designs.
William DeHart was an early maker of American Modernist enamel jewelry.  An identical pin (to the one shown to the right) was exhibited  in 1948 at the exhibition of Modern Jewelry at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.  A bracelet of enameled domes by DeHart is illustrated in Enameling - by Mary Larom (1954).

It is believed that this is the same William DeHart that was either president or artistic director of Towle Silversmiths in the late 1950s when they were producing a line of modernist sterling dishes decorated in abstract enamel paintings.

William DeHart, sterling & enamel brooch

Margaret De Patta (1903-1964) attended the Academy of Fine Arts in San Diego, California, the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and the Art Students League in New York. She studied metalsmithing with Armenian-born artisan Armin Hairenian and by 1935 had her own studio and was selling jewelry through a craft gallery in San Francisco. She attended Moholy-Nagy’s Institute of Design in Chicago ( 1940-41) and there met and married Eugene Bielawski. They returned to San Francisco where they began a limited production operation of her jewelry which was sold in many national outlets; In 1951 she and Bielawski moved to Napa, California and attempted to open a school based on the Bauhaus philosophy. This never materialized and in 1956 De Patta stopped manufacturing and returned to making one-of-a-kind pieces. She was one of the most recognized modern jewelers winning numerous local and national awards. She also helped to found the San Francisco Metal Arts Guild. 
Fred Farr was a painter, sculptor and also a designer.  He attended the University of Oregon, and the American Artist’s School. His work was also included in Modern Jewelry Design at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946,  He worked with cut-out silver and constructed abstract designs. 
Doris Hall attended the Cleveland School of Art. She worked in enamel and produced jewelry for retail stores throughout the United States.
Fannie Hillsmith  studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Students League in New York. She also exhibited in Modern Jewelry Design at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946. She studied painting and that influence can be seen in her work in wire and composition stone which she mixed with bits of Lucite, worn bits of glass and pebbles. Her work was included in the Italian publication Esempi di Decorazione Moderna di Tutto il Mondo by Aloi in 1954. 
Hurst & Kingsbury ( Joan Hurst and Jill Kingsbury) are two exceptional woman designers who worked in New York in the 1940S-50s. They worked mostly in cut-out silver shapes in a biomorphic style. . They also exhibited in Modern Jewelry Design at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946.
 Adda Husted-Andersen is a native of Denmark, but worked in New York, had a shop there, and was president of the New York Society of Craftsmen for several years. Her work was also included in Modern Jewelry Design at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, and the Italian publication Esempi di Decorazione Moderna di Tutto il Mondo by Aloi in 1954. Her jewelry is mostly done in cut-out silver shapes and constructed forms and shows European influence. 

Phyllis Jacobs, Silver pin

Phyllis W. Jacobs worked in California (Palo Alto) in the 1950s. She worked in clay as well as silver using mostly biomorphic shapes.

Sam Kramer (1913-1964)" is considered the most significant postwar American jeweler." His interest in jewelry making began in High School, however he pursued journalism at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California, At the latter school, he took a jewelry course with ceramist Glen Lukens whose pottery championed spontaneity. He worked briefly as a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles, worked in a small jewelry factory in Pittsburgh, and toured the American Southwest learning about Native American jewelry. He went to New York in the 1930s, studied gemology at the New York University, and opened a studio/shop on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village. His jewelry designs were based on the art of Surrealism and his life "consciously imitated his art as he dressed eccentrically in bazaar outfits of his own design." In 1940 he married Carol Enners. Though she had no previous experience, he taught her to be a very capable jewelry and they began a collaboration which lasted many years until they divorced in 1957. Kramer received much publicity in his lifetime being the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles as well as appearing on television. His work has been shown in numerous exhibitions. 13

Paul Lobel, Silver pin

Paul Lobel (1899-1983) was born in Rumanian, but raised in the United States. Though he is well known as a modernist studio jeweler Paul Lobel was also a painter, sculptor and designer of glass, furniture and silver hollowware. He studied commercial art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in the 1920s. He became a cartoonist and sold drawings to several national magazines and the New York Times newspaper. He attended the famous Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 and in 1926 exhibited thirty-five of his own works in a solo exhibition at the Grande Librarie Universelle de Paris. During the years 1928-1934, Lobel worked with Leo J. Uris to produce decorative sculpture and accessories and also created modernist hollowware of chrome influenced by the work of Jean Puiforcat. He participated in the exhibition, Contemporary American Industrial Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1934.
 In the years between 1935-1940 Lobel produced " a line of small tabletop items called "Benduro" made from bent glass and plastic" which obtained him silver and bronze medals at the International Exposition of Arts and Techniques in Paris (1937). His silver objects were shown in Contemporary Industrial and Handwrought Silver at the Brooklyn museum and at the Silver: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Design by Manufacturers, Designers, and Craftsmen at the Metropolitan Museum in 1940. He opened his studio/shop at 165 West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village in 1944. His work was included in Modern Jewelry Design at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946. He was at the forefront of the American Modernist studio jewelry movement. He relocated his shop to 33 West Eighth Street in 1960 and closed in 1965 though he continued to design in many different mediums. A memorial exhibition was held in New York at the Hudson River Museum in 1984. 14
Keith Monroe studied painting and drawing at the University of California. In 1946 he began jewelry making and enjoyed incorporating "found objects" into his work. 
Philip Goodrich Morton died this year, March 18 2001.  He was born in 1911 and began jewelry making in the late1930s when his wife took a jewelry course offered through the WPA art project. He sold his pieces in San Francisco and by 1946 was also producing his own line of contemporary silverware. In 1947 he taught metal design at the School for American Craftsmen in Alfred, New York ad in 1947 he went to the University of Minnesota where he established the contemporary jewelry and three-dimensional design programs. His work has been wide exhibited throughout the United States and the world and was featured in the Swedish magazine Form in 1951. He was also included in the Italian publication "Esempi di Decorazione Moderna di Tutto il Mondo by Aloi in 1954 and the first International Exhibition of Modern Jewelry 1890-1961 held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London His work is highly sculptural and elegantly modern in design. He is author of the book Contemporary Jewelry, A Studio Handbook and was one of 17 jewelers from the United States and Canada who together formed the Society of North American Goldsmiths. In the mid 1970's began formal education at CG Jung institute of Chicago. In 1974 he received a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from Bowling Green University. After he received his degree he opened shop. Painting became his passion when he retired from psychotherapy....later returning to jewelry in the 1990's.
Walter Rhodes was a studio artist-jeweler in Tappan New York. His worked mostly in cut-out silver and wire abstract designs, many times including stones.

Caroline Gleick Rosene
Silver earrings

Caroline Gleick Rosene studied at Washington University and Radcliffe College. She was the director of the City Art Museum at St. Louis and the Art Center at Fitchburg, Massachusetts and was a studio jeweler with her own shop for many years. She participated in many exhibitions throughout her career. Irena Brynner studied under Rosene in the late 1940s or early 1950s.. I believe she worked in San Francisco in her later years.

Pearl S. Schecter studied art at Columbia University receiving her MFA. She also attended the Hans Hoffman School and the Chicago Bauhaus School of Moholy-Nagy. She became interested in jewelry making and studied with Adda Husted-Andersen in New York. She opened a studio in New York which she maintained for many years while also teaching at New York University and directing the art department at the Little Red Schoolhouse High School. Her jewelry is "concerned with the elements of space, line, tension, and negative-positive relationships." 15

Bob Winston (b. 1915) studied art at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a master of art in painting in 1943. He began making jewelry in the late 1930s and taught evening classes in jewelry making at Berkeley High School. From 1942-56 he taught jewelry, composition, drawing, and painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. One of his students was Irena Brynner. Winston is especially known for his work in lost-wax casting. He created "highly sculptural, textured jewelry which appears to be carved and modeled directly in metal." Each piece he made was unique and he never cast in multiples. He also traveled through the United States promoting "the creative possibilities" of his techniques in casting. He was one of the founders of the San Francisco Metal Arts Guild (1951). He exhibited at galleries in New York and San Francisco and in 1956 retired from teaching to devote his time to jewelry making. He wrote a book on lost-wax casting which was published in 1970. 16

Click here to continue to "The Wearable Art Movement Part II."

Biographies were taken in part from Messengers of Modernism by Toni Greenbaum,   Contemporary Jewelry–A Studio handbook by Phillip Morton,  and Jewelry Making as an Art Expression by Kenneth Winebrenner, and courtesy of Shari Miller and
 Tom Guarrera


1 Messengers of Modernism by Toni Greenbaum,  pg. 15
2Structure and Ornament, American Modernist Jewelry 1940-1960, Forward by Mark  Foley
3Messengers of Modernism, pg. 20
4 Dictionary of Art Terms by Ralph Mayer,  pg.386
5 Structure and Ornament, pg. 5

6 The Dictionary of 20th Century Design by John Pile, pg. 177
7 Design 1935-1965, What Modern Was, Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs de Montreal,  pp. 27-28
8 One of a Kind, American Art Jewelry Today by Susan Grant Lewin,  pg. 11

9Contemporary Jewelry–A Studio handbook by Phillip Morton, pgs. 36-37
10Everyday Art Quarterly, March, 1948, pgs. 9,10
11 Messengers of Modernism, pg. 20
12Messengers of Modernism, pg. 18
13 Messengers of Modernism, pgs. 75-77
14Messengers of Modernism 96-98

Contemporary Jewelry–A Studio handbook, pg. 48
Messengers of Modernism  pg. 104

For current information on the Walker Art Center visit  www.

Marbeth Schon is the owner of M. Schon Modern at
   She is Co-moderator of SilverForum
 and Co-editor of MODERN SILVER magazine

article by Marbeth Schon
photographs courtesy of Walker Art Center & Marbeth Schon
Web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright © 2001 Modern Silver Magazine

  Your comments are invited. 
  Feedback Form

home articles events gallery
books  links market
silverforum search advertise