Scholarship in the history of jewelry making in the 20th Century has often focused on a very narrow discourse based on primarily white European and American designers, and has often overlooked the creative contributions of other diverse voices, such as the African American community. Many of these designers coming from this community have helped develop contemporary jewelry, providing superb artistic craft to the worlds of fashion, performance, fine art, and art jewelry. Yet these contributions have largely gone unnoticed, as only few black artists have achieved prominent exhibition and research on their efforts in jewelry making. As America continues to develop a better understanding of its vast and multiplicitous history, continuously incorporating the diverse figures that have previously been forgotten, jewelry scholarship needs to accomplish the same task. This presentation is part of the ongoing effort to capture the many stories of influential black makers of jewelry, and to let their artistic merits be given the credit that has been long due.
This presentation will cover some of the many contributions of African American jewelers, from the Modernist jewelry practices of the 1940’s to the powerful political statements made in jewelry more recently. We will look at the various fields that benefited from black creative talent, looking at scenes from fashion and performance, to arts and design. In addition, we will also explore not only the creative works themselves, but also the communities that developed around the enthusiastic exchanges of creative thought. Faced with the constant threat of racism and oppression that plagues America, communities of color formed artistic circles as a means of survival and a preservation of heritage, passing on techniques and traditions in Mid-20th Century jewelry centers as Greenwich Village, to wider artistic circles in Los Angeles and Chicago. Lastly, we will introduce various designers, from widely known names to lesser known contributors, in the hope of increasing wider acknowledgement of these important African American artists, and their great influence and impact on the history of modern jewelry.
Professor and Art Historian
Sebastian Grant is a curator, art historian, and professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City. He currently teaches in the First-Year Program, educating students in art history and research writing. He received his Bachelor’s degree at McGill University in Art History and Classics, and he graduated in 2017 from the Parsons History of Design and Curatorial Studies Masters Program. During the program, he was a Cooper Hewitt Fellow of the Cooper Hewitt Museum, and had also completed the program’s first Curatorial Capstone Project, helping to curate the Cooper Hewitt Triennial Beauty, and the Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition Jewelry of Ideas: The Susan Grant Lewin Collection. He has also curated a lost and found exhibition at the Materials for the Arts in Long Island City, in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the company. He currently works as collections manager of the Susan Grant Lewin Art Jewelry Collection.