The Jewelry of Art Smith

By | Fashion and Accessories History | 1stdibs, Art Smith, Brookyln museum, exhibit, fine jewelry, jewelry auction, modernist, New York, vintage jewelry,

Art Smith, of Jamaican decent and cuban birth, moved to the United States, New York City/Brookyln to be specific in the 1920s.  Considered an important early American jewelry designer, he produced some of the most beautiful modernist work. He has also been recognized as the first “African American” jewelry designer. This year the MFA presented some of his work in their exhibit and the Brookyln museum also summarized in their coverage:

Knuckle Duster ring, Art Smith. 1968. Brooklyn museum.


“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 exhibit and online article- Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith-Brooklyn Museum).

Boa, by Art Smith.1964. Brooklyn museum image.
Lava, 1946. Art Smith. Brooklyn Museum image. 

By the 1950s he had coverage in magazines like Harpers Bazaar and Vogue. He sold to celebrity clientele as well as-one of the most noted cases, Eleanor Roosevelt for whom he designed a brooch.  During the 1960s his style grew to include significant use of sterling silver. Recognized over and over from jewelry text to exhibits and awards, needless to say he is of interest to anyone who collects or appreciates jewelry. Examples currently for sale, can be viewed online and in Hudson, NY.   So hope you enjoyed, this little visual feast of images of some of my favorite examples of his work. I think it is safe to say that many a collector, myself included, might do many a thing for my favorite piece, this necklace: 

Ellington Necklace, 1962- online image from the Brooklyn museum site.

Ellington Necklace, 1962- online image from the Brooklyn museum site.

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