There was more to Art Nouveau than just making a piece of jewelry. [It] possessed mysticism, which implied things beyond one’s logical comprehension. It entered the realm of the subconscious, dealing with needs and desires. The work has a sensuous quality—the rich materials, the delicacy of line and the visual beauty. At a time when art was stressing rational, analytical thought, Art Nouveau showed me that emotions were enough to go on, that you could rely on your senses as a means of direction. You don’t see the jewelry as an image that you can take or leave, but as something that you can delve into.
Modern Handmade Jewelry
Jewelry is one of the most graphic indicators of personal identity. In sync with the body, it helps to define the individuals who wear it. Jewelry is also among the most revealing examples of material culture. The necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, and brooches worn by people throughout the ages contain powerful clues about the eras, traditions, habitations, and societies in which they lived.
To this day, jewelry continues to act as an important signifier. The twentieth century, along with the first two decades of the twenty-first, is particularly rich in what we refer to as “studio jewelry.” Studio jewelry, which is invariably handmade, can simply celebrate process and provide an alternative to fine or costume jewelry, but it can also harbor deeper meanings—concepts far beyond jewelry’s usual function as decoration, commemoration, or talisman. Studio jewelry exists at the nexus of art, craft, and design, often reflecting aesthetic concerns, theoretical doctrines, political agendas, or popular trends. Most studio jewelry is either unique or produced in limited edition. It can be fabricated from precious metals and gemstones, or created from materials outside the norm, or both. Studio jewelry may be easy to wear, or present tactical challenges. All in all, it is a most compelling adornment—whether we regard it technically, stylistically, artistically, or even existentially.
Albert Paley b. 1944
Albert Paley is an American jewelry designer and sculptor whose work defies strict categorization as either art or craft, instead embracing the finer aspects of both disciplines.
Paley was born in Philadelphia in 1944 to lower middle class parents. Despite showing a natural inclination towards the arts, Paley held misgivings about pursuing a career as an artist. He believed the only way to earn a steady income in the arts was to find work in advertising—a proposition he found distasteful.
It was Paley’s girlfriend, a student at the Tyler School of Art, who convinced him otherwise. A single Saturday spent touring the campus and Paley was sold; he enrolled at the Tyler School of Arts with hardly enough money for a single semester’s tuition. Paley began taking classes in jewelry making and sculpture during his sophomore year and soon found himself enthralled with both crafts. Paley graduated from the Tyler School of Arts in 1969 with a Master in Fine Arts.
Paley began his professional career as a jeweler creating works of wearable art that merged the sinuous and organic lines of European Art Nouveau with the visual weight of metalwork. Later in 1969, Paley accepted a position teaching goldsmithing at the Rochester Institute of Technology, but continued to pursue his sculptural aspirations on the side. In 1972, Paley was commissioned to produce the Portal Gates at the Smithsonian Institute’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. Completed in 1973, and installed in 1976, the monumental steel, bronze and copper doors earned Paley national recognition as a metalsmith of truly unique vision.
Albert Paley’s sculptures don’t simply occupy space; they command it. Paley possesses a rare ability to transform iron from a lifeless and unyielding metal into a moving, almost liquid, element. Despite the seemingly spontaneous and organic nature of his work, Paley is a consummate draftsman, envisioning the majority of his creations on paper before stepping to the forge.
Crossing the boundaries between art and craft, Paley has established himself as one of the greatest metal artists in the country. Throughout his career, he has completed several important private and public site-specific commissions including the Clay Center Sculpture at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in West Virginia and the Animals Always installation at the St. Louis Zoo. Further, his works have been widely published and can be found in multiple major museum collections around the world.
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