Art Smith (American, born in Cuba, 1917–1982)
Object Place: New York, New York
Overall: 43.8 x 26 x 1.9 cm (17 1/4 x 10 1/4 x 3/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Silver; turquoise, rhodochrosite, chrysoprase, and amethyst (or garnet)
The 1940s and 1950s (Gallery 336)
Large silver necklace comprised of three free-form elements each with three applied bezel-set stones (semi-precious). Framed and connected by hammered flat curved silver elements.
Art Smith, born in New York to parents of African-Caribbean descent, was a seminal figure in the American studio jewelry movement. From 1942 to 1946, Smith studied at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and during those years also trained in metalsmithing with jeweler Winifred Mason. Smith later recalled Mason’s shop as “a little Bauhaus” and a gathering place for African-American artists and writers including Ralph Ellison, Bill Attaway, and Gordon Parks. In 1948, Smith opened his own shop in Greenwich Village, a vibrant art community where many leading modernist jewelers, including Sam Kramer, Frank Rebajes, and Paul Lobel, had studios within blocks of each other.
Influenced by prevailing art movements such as constructivism, surrealism, and biomorphism, Smith developed an individual style by incorporating in his jewelry the large scale of East African dance regalia, the rhythms of jazz music, and the movement of contemporary African-American dance. Designing stage jewelry for the black dance companies led by Talley Beatty, Pearl Primus, and Claude Marchant may have helped Smith develop his sense of theatricality and interest in the relationship of jewelry to the wearer’s body. This bold necklace demonstrates Smith’s skill in manipulating positive and negative space, creating a sense of flowing movement in asymmetrical, biomorphic forms. As his niece observed, “Arthur…had a capacity to deal with all the senses to the fullest. The ears for the music, the eyes for observing beauty, the hands for making it.”
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Gansevoort Gallery; Daphne Farago, December 26, 1996; to MFA, 2006, gift of Daphne Farago.
The Daphne Farago Collection
Reproduced with permission.