NOTE: Since recording this episode, ASJRA has rescheduled its 15th annual conference “Jewelry in America” in New York City to September 11 – 12, 2020. Updated details can be found at www.jewelryconference.com
Since its founding 15 years ago, the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts (ASJRA) annual conference has become well-known as an information-packed event for jewelry lovers. This year’s conference will be no different, with topics ranging from plique-à-jour enamel to Tiffany & Co, all with a focus on American jewelry past and present. Elyse Karlin, co-founder of ASJRA, was a recent guest on the Jewelry Journey podcast, where she gave listeners a preview of the upcoming conference. Read the episode transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, my guest is Elyse Karlin, jewelry curator, author and co-director of the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts, ASJRA. Elyse runs the annual conference, which will take place this April in New York City. She’s going to tell us all about that and the study day. I have to say, I’ve attended both several times and have always thought they were totally engrossing and have learned so much. Elyse, welcome to the program.
Elyse: Thank you. Thank you for your kind words, too.
Sharon: I know how much work putting together a conference is, and you’ve done an incredible job. Tell us about your jewelry journey, because I know you didn’t come directly into this.
Elyse: I’ve actually been collecting jewelry since I was about 12 years old. My aunt was an interior decorator and she also wore antique jewelry. She would take me to antique shops when she bought things for her clients, and I zoomed right over to the jewelry counter wherever we went. I was kind of self-taught because there wasn’t really any place to study antique jewelry when I was growing up. That’s not quite the case anymore, luckily, so my interest has been growing ever since.
Sharon: You also had a different career.
Elyse: Yes, I was in advertising. I worked in advertising for several years, but I was collecting and connecting with other collectors and dealers, and eventually I ended up on the board of the American Society of Jewelry Historians. I became the president and from there started my own organization.
Sharon: Tell us about ASJRA. Can you give us some background? What was missing that prompted it?
Elyse: We’ve been a formal organization for 15 years. My co-director in the association is Yvonne Markowitz, who is the retired curator of jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I believe to this day, it’s still the only jewelry curatorship in America. Yvonne and I worked closely together. We wrote some articles together, and I decided to start a magazine that we still publish called Adornment. Yvonne was writing for the magazine and we started to think, “Well, we have a magazine. Maybe we should have a conference.” And once we decided to have a conference—this came out of a telephone call one day; it was impromptu. We decided to have a conference and then we were full speed ahead. Once we had both a magazine and a conference, we decided we ought to have an umbrella organization, and that’s how ASJRA started.
It’s open to anyone who has any interest in jewelry whatsoever. The magazine only goes to members; you can’t buy it otherwise. We have a newsletter. You get a discount on our conference, but a big part of what we do is encourage students to do research. They can speak at our conferences. They can get published in our magazine. We offer a discount on student membership because we fully recognize that we need young people coming up in the ranks to study jewelry.
Sharon: That’s great. So, there is a society of jewelry historians, but that was all there was at the time. Is it that you saw this gap?
Elyse: It wasn’t that there was a gap; it’s that we do different things than they do. They don’t run a conference, although I did when I was president, but they did not continue it after I was done with my term. They don’t publish a magazine. They just publish a newsletter, so there’s not the same opportunity for people to do research and publish in-depth articles. Plus, the underwriting of students and trying to help students and people who teach jewelry history, those are unique to our organization.
Sharon: How did you come up with the concept of a study day as opposed to a two-day conference?
Elyse: This is our 15th conference. I believe we did it from the start. I think it was Yvonne’s idea because there are so many people in the jewelry world in New York. We realized we could take a smaller group of people—we couldn’t take everybody who comes to the conference—to see behind-the-scenes activities, jewelers in their studios. We’ve gone to all kinds of unusual places. Sometimes some of things we do on the study days are not entirely about jewelry, but about decorative arts or costumes, something that’s related to jewelry that people don’t pay enough attention to to see the connections.
Sharon: This year, tell us about what’s going to be on the study days and what’s going to be in the conference.
Elyse: I’ll be happy to. The title of the conference is Jewelry in America. The impetus is that there’s a wonderful exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art right now, curated by Beth Wees. She’s pulled wonderful pieces of American jewelry out of The Met’s collection, and the exhibition will actually be ending the weekend of our conference. Beth will be our keynote speaker, and on the study day she’ll be taking us on a curator’s tour through the exhibition. I’ve gone through it with her and it’s a wonderful experience.
The rest of the conference will be totally focused on jewelry and jewelers who work in America today or worked in America in the past. We have Lois Sherr Dubin, who’s very well known as an expert in both the history of beads and Native American jewelry. She’s going to be talking specifically on Native American flower beadwork, which she’s done a lot of research on. We have John Hatleberg speaking, who is a fabulous jeweler. He’s a conceptual gem artist, and he’s known for his very innovative and one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. One of the things he does, he takes corn cobs and pulls all the kernels out and fills them with pearls. They’re fabulous. He does them in every size, a little size you can wear as a pin or so big that you can hang it on the wall. They’re just beautiful and they’re in museum collections. He also is known for making exact replicas of famous diamonds. For example, the Smithsonian hired him to make a replica of the Hope Diamond, and when you look at them, they’re almost impossible to tell apart. He has a special formula. We don’t know what is, but I have held that replica of the Hope Diamond in my hand. That was very exciting. He’ll be talking about his work.
We have Tom Herman. Tom Herman is an amazing self-taught goldsmith. He’s quite well known for his work, and he has a particular interest the plique-à-jour enamel work of Marcus & Co. He studied it extensively, so he’s going to unfold for us how he thinks enamel work came to be and talk about the gorgeous pieces that Marcus & Co. made with that enamel work. He and a wonderful enameller called Patsy Croft created something called the Matilija Poppy Project. They studied the plique-à-jour of Marcus and made this huge poppy brooch with plique-à-jour enamel, which was sold at Sotheby’s to benefit an artist association in California. He’s going to talk about that project.
Sharon: Elyse, let me interrupt you for one minute. I’m not sure that everybody listening knows what plique-à-jour is.
Elyse: Plique-à-jour is an ancient technique that was lost and then revived during the art nouveau period. It’s a type of enamel that’s like a stained-glass window. Light can pass through it and illuminate it. In more ancient times, and even in the art nouveau period, it was created by firing it with a back on it and then removing the back. Patsy uses a completely different technique which I can’t explain. I don’t understand it exactly, but Tom will be talking about that.
We also have Annamarie Sandecki from the Tiffany & Co. archives talking about Tiffany & Co. We have Jonathan Wahl, who is the Director of the 92nd Street Y jewelry program, where we’ve having the conference. It’s actually the largest jewelry-making program in the country. Jonathan will talk about that, but he’s also an amazing artist, both a jewelry artist and a fine artist and sculptor. He does drawings of mourning jewelry made of jet and they look like photographs. I’ve never seen anything like them. I know he’s in the permanent collection of The Met and probably other places as well.
Then, I’m going to be giving what we call mini-lectures, just 10-minute lectures—I’ll do three of them instead of one big lecture—on the jewelry of Peter Lindenauer. He was a mid-century modern jeweler who made jewelry for companies like Tiffany, but he also sold work under his own name. He was very progressive, and he’s in his nineties now. I’m going to talk about Diamond Jim Brady, who was a colorful character at the turn of century who collected jewelry with diamonds and wore it. My final lecture will be on the contemporary artist Robert Lee Morris.
Sharon: Wow, that will be a lot of fun. It all sounds great. When you mentioned Tom Herman, I’d never heard of him before until a study day, one of the first ones I attended years ago.
Elyse: We went to his studio. Yeah, he’s amazing. A number of years ago, Yvonne had an exhibition of art nouveau jewelry at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He called me after he had seen it and began to describe how every piece was made. I never would have understood anything about the construction without him telling me. His analysis is just fabulous.
Sharon: Wow! It’s something to look forward to. What are the dates?
Elyse: The conference is on Saturday, April 4 (rescheduled to Saturday, September 12), and the study day, which is limited to 25 people, is on Friday, April 3 (rescheduled to Friday, September 11). It’s filling up, so if anybody is interested, they should contact us fairly quickly.
Sharon: We’ll have that information in the show notes so people can look at ASJRA. It’s a great organization, and your publication Adornment is flabbergasting because it’s full of well-researched material. It’s amazing.
Elyse: We’re lucky that people like to write for us because there aren’t that many places to get published. We think we’re performing a service to make that space, but it’s wonderful for us to get the articles. I did want to mention we have a separate website for the conference, which is the best way to find out about it. It’s www.jewelryconference.com and all the details and registration information are on the website.
Sharon: We’ll put the ASJRA website and that one in the show notes.
Elyse: That would be great.
Sharon: Elyse, thank you so much for being here. As I’ve said, all the information will be in the show notes. That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey podcast. If you like what you heard and you would 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. Thank you so much for listening.
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