Monday, May 31, 2010

The Artisans of Mid Century


 About one month ago I found a pin in a junk shop, it was very well made and sculptural.  Researching led me to discover a world I grew up in but never knew, the 1950's and 60's, post war boom of American Costume Jewelry.   Manufactured  in the USA, Providence , RI was the center of this beautiful art form.
The elegance, quality, workmanship of this era is unsurpassed by anything we are doing now in affordable fashion.   In fact, we are not doing anything, because it is all made in China.
      The more I look at the pieces by Vendome, DeLizza and Elster, (Juliana), Coro, BSK, Trifari, Lisner, I see dreams of my parents' generation -- making a better life for their kids... ie, us baby boomers.
And they did.  We are the richest generation in our country but sadly we will not be passing this down to our offspring because we do not make things in America like this anymore.

     Each piece of authentic vintage American jewelry preserves an America where work ethic and quality reigned.   Our parents were busy, they took pride in making things.  I looked at the old photographs of  women stringing beads in the 1950's factories.  At a table with other women they create sparkly necklaces that embody dreams of glamour and attaining a better life.  Of course, the industry was not without labor abuses, as some owners worked their women long hours without benefits.   But what I want to focus on is the quality of the work which is derived from dedication to making something excellent.

    Looking at the photographs, I imagine the pride in making a beautiful creation.  When you work with gorgeous materials, it can't help you feel good.   I know that if I am surrounded by beautiful fabrics and threads I feel that I want to produce the most creative item I can imagine.   All this is a process of course, as each item we produce leads us to the next one, we learn and master through commitment.

     Growing up near Manhattan in the 1950's, "What's the latest" was an assumed state of mind. 
It meant, who is making what, what new computer is being designed in Poukeepsie,  what new fabrics were on the shelves in B. Altmans's,  or what's chic in Vogue Magazine.   Back then we made our clothing from gorgeous fabrics milled in the USA.   With great sewing patterns used over by every cousin, aunt, and friend, you could customize a unique dress from the same pattern.  If you could not afford to buy nice ready to wear, there was an option for you.  Our family did not have the money to be big shoppers, but we absorbed the bulk of "What's the Latest" by DIY.   As a young lady, my  hope was that I would buy ready made in the future with increased economic prosperity.

    Mid twentieth century costume jewelry regaled an exuberance and elegance of design, with a splash of humor reminding one not to take oneself so seriously.   The clarity of the rhinestones, the handmade Art Glass, the movement of color and shape sparkle happiness.  It was a brief  time of hope, innocence, and fantasy, yielding to the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil rights unrest and Vietnam in the 1960's. 

    Do we have dreams now or do we just fear?  The oil spills, terrorist plots, what will the news bring next?
I feel like we trample from one tulip craze to the next, never learning from the past or taking time to think.  Scrambling to survive,  or so we think.  Layering debt that our children will pass on to theirs, I am sure they will not have something they can truly call their own.

      I am collecting pieces of this genre because it reminds me of an idealism and when Americans actually made something.    Their sculptural qualities, color and elegant design also inspire me for my artwork.  You may soon see screen prints on my fabrics hinting at this luxurious past.

                     DeLizza and Elster Milk Glass with Copper Fluss             

Vendome Art Glass

Unsigned Art Glass Bracelet                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                     Juliana Red Siam Brooch         

1 comment:

Rayela Art said...

Lovely post, Jane! I agree with you completely on what you are saying about lost knowledge and the longing for an era when people knew how to make things. I think this reliance on China and other countries for our basic needs is really dangerous and an issue of national security. What happens if the access to these products is cut off? And, the chaos of all the people who can no longer fend for themselves. The craft and indie movement have both really helped in this regard. But, we have lost a huge base in our industrial sector that is really devastating...

On a more creative note, those pieces would look really good as fabric sculptures!