ExhibitionsFrom the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith
Past Exhibition

From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith

June 21 – September 13, 2015


Model with dark skin and short black hair holds her hand over half her face to model a modern cuff bracelet

Peter Basch
Model Wearing Art Smith’s “Modern Cuff” Bracelet, circa 1948
Black-and-white photograph
Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

This exhibition presents twenty pieces of jewelry by acclaimed African American jewelry designer Arthur “Art” Smith, featuring work from the late 1940s through the 1970s. The presentation is enhanced by archival material from the artist’s estate, including the original shop sign designed by Smith and period photographs of models wearing his designs. Sketches and a selection of unfinished works and shop tools provide visitors a glimpse into Smith’s working process.

Art Smith was one of the leading modernist jewelers of the mid-twentieth century. Inspired by Surrealism, biomorphism, primitivism, and a deep understanding of the female form, Smith created jewelry that is dynamic in size and shape but remains lightweight and functional. Indebted to American sculptor Alexander Calder and his kinetic, abstract designs, Smith created wearable, ornamental interpretations of contemporary art.

Smith was born to Jamaican parents in Cuba and raised in Brooklyn. He received a scholarship to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where he was one of only a handful of black students. He majored in sculpture, which provided invaluable training when he became a jeweler. By the mid-1950s, Smith’s career was flourishing; he received feature pictorial coverage in both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and boutiques across the nation sold his work. Smith’s highly productive career continued until shortly before his death in 1982.