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Betty Cooke – Modernist Artisan

betty cooke

I have been collecting Betty Cooke jewelry since the early 1980s and have always been attracted to the elegance and simplicity of her designs, which gives her jewelry a timeless quality.

Betty has been designing jewelry since she graduated from the Maryland Institute in 1946.  Back then she and her husband, Bill Steinmetz, renovated a house on Tyson Street in Baltimore, Maryland and built a studio for the selling of her designs.  Her first important recognition came when the Walker Art Center included some of her pieces in their “Good Design” show in the mid 40’s.

I was lucky enough to meet Betty Cooke in the early 1990s.  She was full of energy and very much on top of her game.  I  purchased many pieces from her over the next 20 years.

In June of 1995, there was a major restrospective show of Betty’s work at the Meyerhoff Gallery of the Maryland Institute, College of the Arts.  It was a stunning exhibition.

I went to the opening night of the show by myself.  Upon entering the show, Betty came over to me, took my arm and we walked the show talking about her pieces, while she introduced me to many of the patrons who attended the event.  I had only known Betty, for maybe a year at that point, and felt very honored.

I still collect Betty’s work.  A few pieces from my collection are shown below.  I especially love her earlier jewelry, the concepts and construction are incredible, the soldering, seamless.

Betty has won many awards over her career and is considered one of America’s top leading designers of modernist jewelry for the past almost 65 years.

An excellent source for vintage Betty Cooke can be found at

Here are some examples of her work.

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Vintage Purses – Quality and Quantity

Aligator Purses

Last weekend I took a trip over to Renninger’s Mid Winter Classic Antiques show in Valley Forge, Pa. It’s always a nice show with an interesting mix of dealers showing everything from country furniture to diamonds and glitz. One of my favorite dealers was exhibiting – Ann Bonafede.

Ann always puts together a fantastic collection of high end purses and designer costume jewelry. We had a chance to chat and she was kind enough to let me photograph some of her items so I could share them with my readers.

There were rows of mint condition vintage skin bags, in all color ranges, dating from the 1940’s on up amidst a mind boggling collection of designer bags from Judith Leiber, Fendi, Cartier, Roberta Di Camerino, Chloe, Coach and so many more. Spring colors were plentiful, pinks, white, reds, plums, tan as well as zebra and combinations of all sorts.

The booth was always busy, so it seems bags were the thing at this show.
Ann was telling me that the selling was very brisk and I can see why. It’s all about quality and selection.

Check out some of her displays and if you’d like to contact Ann her email is – Or if you’d like to see the bags in person she’ll be exhibiting this weekend at the Chantilly Virginia Antiques show.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Ed Wiener

Here’s a preview of one item I’ll be listing tomorrow on Slapmefabulous, Etsy.

Executed in the early 1950’s, this pendant/necklace, hand crafted by one of the icons of the modernist jewelry movement, Ed Wiener, is truly a statement piece. Although deceptively simple in design this well crafted and solid form perfectly captures the prevailing artistic elements of the American mid century. Highly influenced by the drawings and mobiles of Alexander Calder, Wiener successfully translated those inspirations into a new aesthetic for jewelry and ornament.

The pendant is composed of brass, copper and silver and measures 2 1/2″ round. It comes with a brass chain but I imagine it originally with a suede or leather cord.


Check out the listing at Slapmefabulous on if you get a chance.

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Art Smith – Modernist Jewelry – at the Brooklyn Museum

Art Smith

From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith
Through March 14

The Brooklyn Museum

African-American artist Art Smith trained at Cooper Union and opened his first shop on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village in 1946. This exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Smith’s jewelry is enhanced by archival material from the artist’s estate, such as sketches, the original shop sign, the artist’s tools, and period photographs of models wearing the jewelry.

Inspired by surrealism, biomorphism, and primitivism, Smith’s jewelry is dynamic in its size and form. Truly a break out artisan, Smith’s sensuous designs appealed to the artistic  and avant garde clientele  that thrived in Greenwich Village during the late 40’s to 1960’s.

For his most iconic design, the “Patina” necklace, Smith is obviously referencing the modern artist Alexander Calder and his mobile creations. However, Smith took that inspiration and created a unique sensual and  primitive form that embraces the neck of the wearer almost as a snake would hug the neck of its handler.

Patina NecklaceArt Smith Patina necklace – Auerbach and Maffia collection

Other Art  Smith designs recall the art of Africa. The cuff bracelet entitled  “Modernette ” is unmistakable in its reference to the mbira [sansa] or African finger piano.  In reflecting his own personal cultural heritage, Smith imbued his jewelry with a special beauty, scale and sense of tribal grandeur as well as encompassing European and American art references.

Art Smith Modernette cuff braceletArt Smith Modernette cuff bracelet – Auerbach and Maffia collection

Art Smith business card
Art Smith business card

Well worth the trip this exhibition lasts until March 14th.

The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.