Monday 12 July 2021
Here is a richly illustrated and engaging look at Beatnik, hippy and nonconformist jewellery makers of America in the 1960s and 1970s. Each chapter introduces strategic makers who participated within the wider craft movement of artistic activism and shows how their practice and jewels reflected defining socio-political moments. From the Vietnam War and political corruption during the Nixon presidency to the rise of the civil rights movement and the sexual revolution – these themes and more were explored by countercultural jewellers.
Many had been educated under principles of Scandinavian design and its reverence for traditional materials and techniques, but they were influenced by the wider artistic movements of the day. Makers such as J. Fred Woell created collages reflecting similar developments within Pop Art, such as Come Alive, You’re in the Pepsi Generation with its Pepsi bottle caps. Funk Jewelry by makers such as the Pencil Brothers and Merrily Tompkins drew inspiration from the literature and music of the Beat movement. They challenged the idea that jewellery was just a vehicle to display wealth and privilege, asserting that it could be classed as art in its own right.
The phrase ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ used to define this generation is only a small part of their story. The countercultural jewellers were community-conscious and advocated for a system that challenged modern societal expectations. However, only a few makers of colour found renown; many non-white colleges did not teach jewellery and metalsmithing. Art Smith is credited as an inspiration for the Funk Jewellers, while silversmith Evangeline J. Montgomery and artist-jeweller Joyce J. Scott did engage with political narratives. The Indigenous American population, whose craft was appropriated by countercultural makers, are ignored. Surely further research will reveal makers in these communities who also found a vehicle for their politics within art jewellery?
In Flux: American Jewelry and the Counterculture
Susan Cummins, Damian Skinner, Cindi Strauss, Arnoldsche, 2020, £25.50 hb
Condensed from a review by Sarah Rothwell in DAS Newsletter No. 122