Sarah Churgin and the owl pin
Meet Sarah Churgin, Director of Rago’s Jewelry Department
18 January 2016
I can still remember my first jewelry purchase. I was five or six years old, eye level with a table at the Community Center where my grandmother was helping with a White Elephant fundraiser. All the older folk had brought their jewelry to sell and they’d piled it atop the table. As you can imagine this wasn’t high-end jewelry, this was costume jewelry, little more than baubles and beads.
My eyes were drawn to the face of an owl, gazing out above a crescent of dark sparkles from the face of a round brooch, about one inch across. As I know now, the brooch was made of cut steel and cast bronze in the Secessionist style. I was earning an allowance of five cents a week and had 35 cents on me. As fate would have it, 35 cents was the exact price the seller quoted. Maybe it was providence. Maybe they simply accepted an earnest child’s modest offer. Regardless, I spent my entire fortune on this one piece. I still treasure it, and I still wear it.
A piece of jewelry is, in many ways, like a wearable time capsule; it has the power to pull you back through the ages to the time and culture that inspired its design. My little pin is an example of this. The use of cut steel and bronze speaks to the manufacturing techniques available in turn of the century Vienna. The owl is symbolic of Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom and Patroness of Art and Crafts. This deific allusion expresses the Seccessionist artists’ reverence for reason, intelligent activity, arts and literature, and references the growing power of women at the dawn of the 20th century.
I guess that, even as a young girl, I had an ‘eye’ for jewelry design. My 35 cent owl pin is probably worth about $300 now. Not that its ‘market value’ matters to me; as far as I’m concerned, it's priceless!