Pam’s Pictorama: Many years ago, my mother gave me these silver earrings. I don’t have pierced ears and therefore I don’t wear earring frequently, however for a number of years these earrings represented dressed up for me. I don’t remember my mother ever wearing them – she is not, never has been, a wearer of jewelry. I must have inherited my desire to drape myself in precious metals and gem stones from my paternal grandmother (Gertie Butler, as mentioned in my recent post Irving, Gertie and Elliott) because I have no memory of my mother wearing more than her wedding ring with only a few notable exceptions.
Recently while cleaning out some closets and shelves at the ancestral home we uncovered a jewelry box, and one of the things it contained was this interesting silver necklace which matches the earrings. It is one the few pieces of jewelry I remember her wearing although I had not seen it in decades. In the process of cleaning it I realized it was signed by the maker, Art Smith. On a whim I googled the name.
Turns out the Brooklyn Museum had a retrospective of his jewelry in 2011. His partner, Charles Russell, left the museum 21 pieces of jewelry and archival material including his tools, period photographs of models wearing the jewelry, and sketches. According to the site, The Brooklyn born Smith was known for pieces that were occasionally over-sized in scale, but wearable and featured semi-precious stones set in silver and gold.
Trained at Cooper Union, they offer that he was a supporter of black and gay civil rights. He opened his first store on Cornelia Street in the West Village in 1946. It is easy for me to imagine my parents wandering into his store, circa the early 1960’s, and picking out the necklace and earrings for my mother.
I cleaned them lightly (fearfully!) and wore them recently to the opening of the Met’s new location, The Met Breuer, a building which is celebrating it’s fiftieth year as it enters its latest incarnation as a Met outpost. So here’s a small salute to New York of the 1960’s, and most of all to my mother, who has excellent taste even if she doesn’t often wear jewelry.