Forged in Fire
Marie Zimmermann; from Heiress to Craftswoman
21 May 2018
Marie Zimmermann (1879 – 1972) is considered the most versatile and skilled craftswoman of the 20th century with an oeuvre that spanned movements, styles, and mediums. A female pioneer in metallurgy, a field dominated almost exclusively by men, she dedicated the first 25 years of her career to learning the techniques she would later employ in artworks produced in her own atelier from the 1910s through the 1930s. The result was a rich outpouring of work as varied as it is impressive. She produced jewelry, candelabra, vessels, garden gates, and more, in a dizzying array of materials--gold, silver, bronze, copper and iron. She was also a painter, sculptor and furniture maker.
It is nearly impossible to ascribe Zimmermann’s creations to a single artistic movement or period. In nearly every piece she created, aesthetic inspirations drawn from ancient Egyptian, Classical and Chinese forms mingle with traces of Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Art and Crafts motifs. A fearless designer, she experimented eclectically with materials, surfaces, colors and applied ornamentation, so that a jewel-encrusted steel dagger might recall elaborate Mughal scabbards, or a brilliantly enameled jewel casket with stylized palmettes might evoke ancient Egypt.
Zimmermann’s astonishing creative range was widely recognized by her contemporaries. In 1926, journalist Harriet Ashbrook of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described Zimmermann as “perhaps the most versatile artist in the country,” going on to proclaim, “there is hardly a beautiful thing which human hands can make that Miss Zimmermann hasn’t made.”
In 1940, Marie Zimmermann closed her studio following a tragic five-year period in which all of her family passed away. She is believed to have sold or bequeathed to intimate friends and household staff some of her most substantial pieces. The descendants of Melita (Bessie) Stewart and Ida Egli have consigned Lot 2050 and 2051 respectively. Both women were housekeepers, cooks and, eventually, companions to Zimmermann and her partner Ruth Allen. They jointly inherited Zimmermann’s Punta Gorda, Florida home after Zimmermann’s death there in 1972 on her ninety-third birthday.