Arts and Crafts jewelry expert Elyse Zorn Karlin has spearheaded several well-known initiatives, including Adornment Magazine and The Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts. Her most recent effort is the seventh annual Jewelry History Series, a conference that precedes The Original Miami Beach Antique Show. She offered a sneak peek of the program on the latest episode of the Jewelry Journey podcast. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, my guest is someone who many of you may be familiar with, Elyse Zorn Karlin. Elyse is an authority on Arts and Crafts jewelry and antique jewelry in general. She has written several books on the subject and has curated museum exhibits. She cofounded The Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts. She also spearheads the Jewelry History Series that accompanies The Original Miami Beach Antique Show, which happens early each year in Miami Beach. It’s one of the largest shows open to the public. Today, we’ll talk about the upcoming conference in early January. Elyse, welcome to the podcast.
Elyse: Thank you for having me.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Can you briefly tell us about your jewelry journey?
Elyse: How I got interested in jewelry to begin with?
Sharon: And what led you to everything you’ve done in jewelry, yes.
Elyse: I started collecting jewelry when I was about 12 years old. I had an aunt who was an interior decorator and she would take me to antique shops while she was buying objects and paintings for her clients, and I gravitated to the jewelry counter always. I was kind of a pipsqueak, but I kept asking dealers questions, and that’s how I learned.
Many years ago now, I ended up on the board of American Society of Jewelry Historians. I became their newsletter writer, editor and, eventually, I was president of the organization for three years. When my time there was up, I started a magazine called Adornment, and Yvonne Markowitz, who is the Curator Emeritus—I’m looking for the right word—of Jewelry at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and I decided that if we had a magazine, we ought to do a conference, because there wasn’t really any annual conference on jewelry that was available. We did that, and then we decided we should have an umbrella over the magazine, the newsletter and the conference, so we created our association.
Sharon: That’s The Association of Jewelry and Related Arts.
Elyse: It’s actually called The Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts, but it’s a mouthful and we just call it ASJRA. From there, I was very lucky that I got exposed to people who gave me the opportunity to curate a jewelry exhibition at the Forbes Gallery, and that led to many other exhibitions. Yvonne and I have written books together, so I was just in the right place at the right time, I guess.
Sharon: I didn’t realize. So, you sort of backed into ASJRA in a sense.
Sharon: I thought it came after, that you had organization and then you thought, “Well, we should do Adornment magazine and the conference.”
Elyse: No, we started with the magazine. We were joking around on the phone one day and said, “Why don’t we have a conference?” It reminded me of Mickey Rooney in that old movie, “Let’s Put on a Play,” but it became serious over a couple of conversations. We’ve just had our 14th conference. Next year it will be 15.
Sharon: Wow! Can you tell us about the work you do now? I know you’re curating an upcoming exhibit and you’ve curated several.
Elyse: Yeah, what I’m working on right now is “Out of This World: Jewelry in the Space Age,” and that exhibition was at the Forbes Galleries. Then it went to Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, and now it’s going to be at the Tellus Science Museum in November 2020, which is an affiliate of the Smithsonian. I’m busy pulling that together again, because even though we’ve done the exhibition before, all the pieces have to be returned to the lenders. We have to gather them again and do paperwork all over. It takes many months to get it pulled together.
Sharon: Oh, my gosh, wow! Can you talk about The Original—I say original, because there are several Miami Beach Antique Shows.
Elyse: Right, but “The Original” is part of the name, so it’s correct to call it that. The show’s been around—I don’t know how many years—many, many years. I’ll tell you that for many years, I had never been there. Everybody I knew—my son was young and he’s 30 now, so this is going back a long time—but everybody I knew was going to the show and telling me how fabulous it was, and I had never gotten there. Then, I got to know the marketing manager of the show, who is no longer with them, and she asked if I would come down and give a lecture during the show, which I did. The following year, she was in New York and she asked Gail Brett Levine and I to have dinner with her, and at dinner she said, “Would you guys consider running the conference for us?” because she knew that we both ran our own conferences, and we said, “Sure.” We didn’t have any idea how it would turn out. We didn’t know what it was going to be about, but somehow, we put together a program. This year will be our seventh year. We were never certain it would go past the first year, and now we’re in seven years and it’s going strong. Basically, it’s a two-day conference. We call it “the Jewelry History Series,” but it is a conference or a seminar, and we have seven or eight speakers. We have a special event and people come from all over, and they’re either coming just for the conference and then they go to the show secondarily, or the other way around. A lot of people are coming for the show anyway. They think this is a great opportunity to learn more while they’re there. So, that leaves the two days preceding the opening of the show.
Sharon: I’ve attended a couple of times in the past, and I know you incorporate the show into it, in terms of an early entrance and an overview.
Elyse: Yeah, the second day of the conference. This year, unusually so. It’s going to overlap with the first day of the show because they had trouble getting the dates later in the month that they wanted, because there were other—I think something to do with the Super Bowl. So, we will take people out onto the floor to visit specific dealers before the show is opened, the day before. We select the dealers ahead of time because security won’t let you wander around there when the dealers are setting up, but it’s a chance to talk to a couple of dealers personally, have them take things out of the case. They’ll hand them around for us to hold, which they wouldn’t do with a group when the show is actually in progress. It’s worked very, very nicely because every dealer who handles certain kinds of jewelry knows quite a bit about it, and they share their information with us. The other thing is when you come to the conference, you get a pass for the entire show, so you can come and go as you like, and there’s no charge. That’s pretty much the way in which we incorporate the show into the Jewelry History Series.
Sharon: I know that The Original Miami Beach Antique Show is very early this year, surprisingly early. January 4 to 8, I think officially.
Elyse: Yeah, and our conference is the 3rd and 4th. It’s never been this early, I don’t think, and hopefully it won’t be next year, but it is when they could book the convention center, so that’s why it is when it is.
Sharon: And this is the newly-renovated Miami—
Elyse: Yes, it’s very nice. We had the conference there the year before it went under renovation. They were working on part of the building, and every once in a while, somebody would open the wrong door and bells would go off. We had a good laugh over it. It was a little bit distressing when you were the speaker, but it was pretty funny.
Sharon: Yeah, I can imagine.
Elyse: Now, it’s a beautiful, new facility.
Sharon: You’ve seen it?
Elyse: Oh yeah, we were there last year. It was open last year.
Sharon: Oh, I didn’t realize that. I didn’t realize it was open.
Elyse: Yeah, it was just open, I think, when we were there last year.
Sharon: Can you tell us who the speakers are and some of the topics?
Elyse: Sure, I’ll give you a rundown. We have Sarah Davis speaking, who was the communications director for Siegelson, a very wonderful New York dealer who has the most magnificent pieces of jewelry. She’s going to talk on “An Eye for Jewelry: How to Understand Jewelry Like a Historian.” I’m going to be speaking on the jewelry and art of Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo, I noticed a number of years ago, wears a lot of jewelry in her self-portraits and in her photographs, so I researched that, and it’s pretty interesting. We have Jan Krulick-Belin, who’s been back for several years now by popular demand because she is a great speaker. She’s going to be talking about the secret language of flowers and Victorian jewelry. Gail Brett Levine, who is my co-director of this event, is going to be talking about how inspirations from the past get revisited in jewelry. We know it goes in cycles and things come up again a hundred years later as a homage to the earlier period. Then we have Melinda Lewis. Melinda wrote this amazing book on The Napier Company. She researched and spoke to everyone, all the descendants of people who somehow were connected with the company. It’s a huge volume, and her book is called, The Napier Co.: Defining 20th Century American Costume Jewelry. She’s going to be talking about Napier and how important this company was to the costume jewelry industry.
Then we have—Susan Martinez is not giving a lecture, but she’s on our panel. That’s another thing that we do. We have a wonderful panel of our experts who speak. We have a curator and an appraiser, and dealer in addition to our historian. We put up pictures of jewelry and each person gives their take on whether this is a good piece, what’s good about it, what’s wrong with it. The curators talk about whether they would want it in their museum collection. It’s very lively and we do it every year.
We also have Kaitlin Shinnick from Skinner’s Jewelry Department. She gives the same lecture every year, “What’s Hot, What’s Not.” She talks about what happened during last year in the jewelry auction business, what was selling, what was really wonderful and what was dead in the water. It changes from year to year, so it’s very useful information. We also have Pamela Wiggins Siegel, who is talking about costume jewelry as well, but she’s going to talk about how to begin to collect costume jewelry and how to learn about it in a more general way than Melinda. Emily Stoehrer, who is now the current Curator of Jewelry at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, will be speaking “A Star for A Star: The Story Behind Claudette Colbert’s Starfish brooch” which is an incredible piece of jewelry by the firm of Rene´ Boivin. This brooch recently was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Finally, we have Beth Carver Wees, who is Curator of American Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She’s going to be talking on the exhibition that she has up right now, called “Jewelry for America.” So, it’s a pretty full program.
Sharon: It sounds fabulous. That sounds like a real packed program.
Elyse: Yeah, we’re very excited about it.
Sharon: It sounds great and what to me is very nice is these are speakers you don’t hear a lot.
Elyse: Exactly, that’s what we strive for, to be honest. We do try to do that.
Sharon: It sounds like you’ve succeeded from the names that you were naming and the topics. Who’s this geared for? I go and I enjoy it, but I’m not in the business. Who should be coming to this conference?
Elyse: Anybody who likes jewelry. We have a real mix. We have people who just like jewelry. We have people who are serious collectors. We have curators. We have curators speaking, but we also have curators who come. We have people from the auction houses who come, appraisers. It’s all across the board and there’s something for everyone. While we try to give specialized lectures, they’re not so technical or they don’t require a lot of previous knowledge to be able to enjoy them.
Sharon: I would agree with that. No, they’re not technical. They’re for the average person who is interested but doesn’t want to have to measure diamonds or whatever.
Elyse: Right, I don’t even know how to do that one. We also give people an opportunity to interact with the speakers because they stay for the whole conference. We sit down and have lunch together. You get a lot of opportunity to talk to them one-on-one as well, which is very nice.
Sharon: It sounds fabulous. It’s a great way to start the year. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you mentioned serious collectors, and this is a subject that’s really been on my mind. What is a serious collector? What’s a collector to you?
Elyse: To me, a serious collector is somebody who spends a lot of money on jewelry, but usually they have a specialty they’re interested in. There are collectors who will just buy any great jewelry, but to me—I don’t know if serious is the right word—a focused collector is looking for something in particular, whether it’s a particular house or maker or style of jewelry or period. I guess it’s hard to be a general collector because there’s so much out there, so many wonderful things. So, I think at some point, people who are really out there hunting and spending money have to find a narrower focus of what they want to zero in on, and that’s what a serious collector is to me. They might not have a lot of money to spend, but they know exactly what it is they’re looking for, so it becomes a treasure hunt.
Sharon: Yes, that’s a good way to look at it, especially at shows like that. That’s when you have dealers from all over the world.
Elyse: And not only that, there are so many of them. It’s a huge show. It’s a little overwhelming there’s so much, and it’s exciting.
Sharon: It’s like four football fields full, I think.
Elyse: Yeah, you can see a lot of jewelry in one place. I can say that.
Sharon: It is pretty large. When you say people who spend a lot of money, being in Los Angeles with a lot of bling out here, I’m sure there are people who spend a lot of money on various expensive pieces, just collecting—
Elyse: True, yeah, I’m not even necessarily saying that they’re buying precious materials. Even some costume has gotten extremely expensive and art jewelry may be made of non-precious materials, but the examples are rare, so it’s not that easy to buy them without having a little bit of a pocketbook.
Sharon: Right, like a Calder piece or something like that, yes.
Elyse: Right, oh my god, yes.
Sharon: I can’t remember where I was, but this woman was telling me that she had been friendly with the Calder Estate and they gave her—she had three or four pieces of jewelry on her.
Elyse: Oh my, what a lucky lady.
Sharon: I know, yes. I can’t remember where that was, but anyway, I’ll tell you when I think about it.
Elyse: If you remember, let me know. His pieces were fabulous.
Sharon: Yes. It’s very hard to find now.
Elyse: It sure is.
Sharon: Having attended a few times, I would say it is definitely—I met appraisers; I met dealers; I met somebody who came from Australia to be at the conference.
Elyse: Yes, we do have one lady who comes from Australia. She’s actually a member of ASJRA, my organization, but she was coming to the show before she knew we were doing the conference, and because she comes anyway, she decided to come early and join us. She’s come a couple of times.
Sharon: There are people from all over the country coming.
Elyse: Yeah, they do.
Sharon: It’s definitely a worthwhile show, so thank you so much for telling us about it.
Elyse: Oh, my pleasure.
Sharon: I really appreciate it. I hope it’s the biggest and best show you’ve ever had and the best conference you ever had.
Elyse: Well, thank you.
Sharon: Thank you so much for being here. To everybody listening, we’ll have Elyse’s contact information in the show notes and a link to the Jewelry History Series Conference.
That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and you’d like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please review us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thanks so much for listening.
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