Jewelry of Ideas Takes Center Stage At The Cooper Hewitt

Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts From The Susan Grant Lewin Collection, at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, offers a broad overview of the radical shifts of the studio design movement from the mid-twentieth century to the present. The gift of 150 represent a diverse and adventurous contemporary collection of abstract, non-objective pieces ranging from bracelets, brooches, rings, and necklaces that Lewin scouted out on trips to Germany, Holland, Japan, Israel, and across the U.S.

Necklace, 2016; Glass beads and peyote stitch techniques, by Joyce Scott

Taken collectively, the seminal works of leading international jewelry makers and designers – from Peter Hoogeboom, Otto Künzli, Gils Bakker, Ted Noten, Thomas Gentile, and Bettina Speckner, among others, – is a study on how groundbreaking jewelers opened up possibilities by using found and industrial materials and applied the new technology to refashion one of the world’s oldest design mediums to rival that of the best in contemporary design.

Ginger Brooch from the “Ginger Series” in electroformed silver, by Sam Tho Duong

Jewelry makers began rejecting traditional forms and the use of gold and silver since the 1940s. They experimented with non-precious materials to produce innovative, one-of-a-kind sculptural designs as seen in an early piece, “Modernette Cuff Bracelet “(1948) by Art Smith. One of the few African-American jewelry makers, Smith intertwined copper wire and patinated sheet brass in a biomorphic shape to create a stunning, simple, abstract, timeless work of art.

Necklace, 1963; “Colorcore Personal Adornment” series, by Robert Ebendorf,  Ivy Ross

Given the rapid advances in technology, the 21st century witnessed a different dynamic overturning earlier notions of jewelry as adornment to statements on the personal, politics, and social mores of contemporary society. One example is the 2016 MacArthur Fellow Joyce Scott who intricately repositions glass beadwork into a platform for social commentary on gender, class, and race. Kiff Slemmons constructed photo transparencies in a chain configuration to document her work process linking the necklace to her professional identity.

Brooch; Spirit With Three Legs 1988, from the “Spirit House” series, silver, 18k woven structure and agate, by Arline Fisch

Lewin who spearheads a public relations firm on design, art and architecture, has been steeped in the industry since her early days as a journalist and later as Global Creative Director at the Formica Corporation and in organizing international exhibitions. She traveled extensively seeking out innovators and honing in on conceptual and material driven pieces, which, given her sentiment, “the field only becomes more exciting as conceptual jewelry design continues to flourish,” will be a continuing passion.

A word about the catalogue by Ursula Ilse-Neuman. An independent curator, author, and lecturer, Ms. Neuman served as co-curator of the exhibition. Her essay illuminates the craftsmanship and is a wonderful resource for aficionados and those interested in learning about art jewelry’s history. Also included are artists’ statements along side photos of their work.

Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts From The Susan Grant Lewin Collection is on view through May 28, 2018, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. 2 East 91 Street, NYC,


Opening photo: 

Kinetic Ring 1993; silver, acrylic
by Friedrich Becker
from The Susan Grant Lewin Collection

Necklace, 2016; Glass beads and peyote stitch techniques
by Joyce Scott
from The Susan Grant Lewin Collection

Ginger Brooch from the “Ginger Series” in electroformed silver
by Sam Tho Duong
from The Susan Grant Lewin Collection

Necklace, 1963; “Colorcore Personal Adornment” series
Colorcore Formica fragments, clothespins (painted wood, metal), cord
by Robert Ebendorf,  Ivy Ross
from The Susan Grant Lewin Collection

Brooch; Spirit With Three Legs 1988
from the “Spirit House” series, silver, 18k woven structure and agate
by Arline Fisch
from The Susan Grant Lewin Collection

All photos: Matt Flynn, © Smithsonian Institution

About Tamara Moscowitz (11 Articles)
Tamara Moscowitz is a writer on art, design, and home décor for digital and print media. Starting out as a features writer for Florida Designers Review and Florida Design she transitioned to online magazines that include, designintell/, and Currently, in addition to contributing articles to Woman Around Town she also writes for She was Founder and Managing Editor of “The Jewish Experience,” a magazine published under the auspices of the Center for Jewish History one of several undertakings as director of communications. As a book publicist she freelanced at Harcourt, among others, planning press and publicity activities for foreign authors. Her long association with PEN American Center, the international writers organization involved fundraising events and marketing literary forums.