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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 Auerbachmaffia.com

Here are some examples of her work.

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Francisco Rebajes – Master Modernist Jewelry Artisan

rebajes

A native of The Dominican Republic, Francisco Rebajes emigrated to the US in the early 1920’s. In the early 1930’s, while the nation was in the grips of the great depression, Rebajes was selling his small hand made metal sculptures on the streets of  New York  just to survive. Then one day, at the famous Washington Square Outdoor Art Show, Juliana Force, director of the Whitney Museum of Art, spotted his work and bought his entire inventory. With this seed money he was able to open his first shop on West 4th street in New York’s Greenwich Village.

As time moved on Rebajes opened several other stores in the Village gradually becoming a part of the overall artisan culture that was thriving there during the 1940’s and early 50’s.  Sam Kramer, the famed surrealist jeweler, and Rebajes were friends and you can see Kramer’s influence in some of Rebajes’ designs from this period. Kramer’s influence is evident in the biomorphic brooch pictured below.

Rebajes eventually became very successful and in the early 1950’s opened a gorgeous upscale shop on 5th Avenue. By this time Rebajes’ copper and silver jewelry was very popular and was being marketed to shops all over the country. It took a workshop of 100 people to churn out these mass produced designs.

Rebajes was a true master artisan. I especially appreciate his earlier works. The hand crafted pieces that were made before his jewelry went national and  mass produced are truly masterful.

Here are some examples of earlier hand made and rarer cast items…………………..

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ED WIENER MODERNIST JEWELRY NECKLACE – PREVIEW

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.

ED WIENER NECKLACE - 1950
ED WIENER NECKLACE - 1950

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

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Mod Girl Vintage

Mod Girl

Last weekend I took a trip down to Philadelphia to visit some friends and stop by the Antiques Center at 615 south 6th street. It’s always fun shopping there. Vintage clothing, vintage jewelry and a wide variety of collectibles abound.

I especially enjoy shopping at MOD GIRL. It’s the first booth you see as you enter the building. There’s Jill, seated behind her jewelry counters chock full of bakelite bracelets, rhinestones necklaces, marcasite brooches, sterling, copper, glitz and so much more. A staple in this center, as Jill says, she’s been there forever. And she has been there for a long time indeed filling her customer’s needs for fine vintage clothing and jewelry.

People come from New York, California and even a few Philadelphians stop by. Many New Yorkers now have second homes in Philadelphia finding it very cosmopolitan and much more affordable than the big apple.

This past summer Jack Nicholson was in town shooting scenes for a film by James L. Brooks and the director himself stopped by and bought two bakelite bracelets.

Searching through the clothing racks I spotted dresses of many different styles and periods. There were a lot of nice wearable dresses from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. I also found a good variety of  classic formal numbers, along with a lot of fun kicky pieces. Coats, sweaters, scarfs, bags, shoes…….…it’s all there. I even noted some designer items as well. Pauline Trigere, Pucci, Adele Simpson, YSL, Schiaparelli, Valentino and many others. It’s definitely worth the trip. I know I’ll be back again soon.

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Etsy Preview – Scandinavian Silver and Enamel Earrings

Scandinavian Sterling and Enamel Tulip Earrings
Scandinavian Sterling and Enamel Tulip Earrings
Scandinavian Sterling and Enamel Tulip Earrings

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

These adorable and finely made earrings are most likely of Norwegian origin.

Black enamel over sterling silver measuring 1″ long and in very good vintage condition.

Very sweet.

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Polished or Polished Not – Vintage Silver Jewelry

Sterling Ring
Hayes Sterling Silver Ring
Hayes Sterling Silver Ring

Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco or Modernist silver jewelry, whatever your passion, do you prefer your brooch, bracelet or necklace looking shiny and show room fresh or do you prefer a more and age appropriate look?

In modern contemporary culture it seems that the “cleaner”, the “fresher” and the “newer” represents the preferred standard. Buy something today and if it displays even the slightest imperfection it’s immediately returned to the store or the online merchant. More recently this attitude has drifted into the realm of antique and vintage items as well. Items that are 100, 50 or even 25 years old are now held to these new criteria. I discuss this only to set the background for my current topic about polishing jewelry. I’ll probably discuss the concept of acceptable damage in a future post.

I’ll state right out that I prefer older items to have a warm and well aged look. One of the reasons I collect vintage pieces is to enjoy the fact that they have survived the arduous trip through time. I love reflecting on the history of the piece and speculating about the historical uniqueness of the design, the character of the designer or maker and the type of people who have handled this piece in the past.

Patina is a great concept.

To quote the eminent antiques dealer Israel Sacks:

Apart from the aesthetic appearance and practical protection of patination, antique experts confirm that an object’s value increases when its patination is intact because it is an important effect of the aging process and this evidential history is reflected in the value of the piece.

He also says:

Patina is everything that happens to an object over the course of time. The nick in the leg of a table, a scratch on a table top, the loss of moisture in the paint, the crackling of a finish or a glaze in ceramics, the gentle wear patterns on the edge of a plate. All these things add up to create a softer look, subtle color changes, a character. Patina is built from all the effects, natural and man-made, that create a true antique.

Well said.

Of course, with jewelry, there are some limits to the amount of patination you might want. A totally black or destroyed surface does nothing to enhance the beauty of the item. A subtle polishing, possibly with a gentle rouge cloth, can give the piece a nice warm glow and bring even the darkest silver back to life.

Polished or not polished, the choice is yours, but in my book… let something old look old. That’s the joy of it.