Model wearing Art Smith’s “Modern Cuff” Bracelet, circa 1948
This exhibition honors the gift of twenty-one pieces of silver and gold jewelry created by the Brooklyn-reared modernist jeweler Arthur Smith (1917–1982), primarily from Charles Russell, Smith’s companion and heir.
The presentation of Art Smith jewelry is enhanced by archival material from the artist’s estate, such as sketches, the original shop sign, Smith’s tools, and period photographs of models wearing the jewelry, along with thirty pieces of modernist jewelry from the permanent collection by such artists as Elsa Freund, Claire Falkenstein, Ed Weiner, and Frank Rebajes.
Inspired by surrealism, biomorphicism, and primitivism, Art Smith’s jewelry is dynamic in its size and form. Although sometimes massive in scale, his jewelry remains lightweight and wearable. The jewelry dates from the late 1940s to the 1970s and includes his most famous pieces, such as a “Patina” necklace inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder; a “Lava” bracelet, or cuff, that extends over the entire lower arm in undulating and overlapping forms; and a massive ring with three semi-precious stones that stretches over three fingers.
Trained at Cooper Union, Art Smith, an African American, opened his first shop on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village in 1946. One of the leading modernist jewelers of the mid-twentieth century, Smith was also an active supporter of black and gay civil rights, an avid jazz enthusiast, and a supporter of early black modern dance groups.
From the Village to Vogue is organized by Barry R. Harwood, Curator of Decorative Arts, Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition is supported by the Harold S. Keller Fund with additional support from the Donald and Mary Oenslager Fund.