Modernist Jewelry Floods Art Museum

By Eric Olson

June 18, 2010 Updated May 16, 2008 at 12:37 PM EDT

You don’t have to care one whit about jewelry to be mesmerized by the newest exhibit at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art because this isn’t like any jewelry most of us have seen. It’s American Modernist jewelry and that means gold and silver, African art, Native American petroglyph, smelting, blacksmithing, metallurgy, voodoo and World War Two.

America just after the Second World War was wealthy and powerful and exploding with creative energy. Wounded GI’s returning home were funneled into craft training programs to speed up their rehabilitation. Many became expert jewelers who infiltrated the once placid jewelry industry, creating masterpieces more to be admired than worn. ‘Portable pieces of art’ is what Earl Pardon called his work Pardon was among the best of the modernists, using enamel the way a painter uses paint, his pieces heavily influenced by African art. Chicago artist Merry Renk’s work mimics forms she found in nature. Robert Ebendorf created what he called ‘portable souls’, inspirational pieces to be carried around in the pocket like a watch. Mary Kretsinger experimented with enamels, using them to weave intricate stories in breathtaking color.

Theo modernists have been called ‘sculptors in small scale’, ‘painters in enamel’, architects in miniature’. They revived ancient jewelry making techniques and invented new ones. Their originality has inspired successive generations of artists in every medium. And this exhibit of their work is huge; 280 pieces by a hundred artists, one of the most extensive collections ever assembled in one place. It is overwhelming and inspirational, and you will leave it wondering how anything so beautiful could be made by a human hand. Eric Olson out in ‘Your Country’.

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