Archives for posts with tag: Ed Weiner
Display of Ed Wiener jewelry designs circa 1950 - Sterling Silver

Display of mid-century sterling jewelry designs

I have a passionate interest in mid-century modernist American studio jewelry, as a few of my posts here attest to. Unfortunately, I’ve found very few resources online that cover the topic exclusively. Since modernist jewelry can have a distinct audience from mid-century modern decor and furniture I’ve decided to create a entirely separate blog devoted the subject.  I will still post here about all furniture and decor related subjects, but all the jewelry related posts will now be on the new blog.  I intend to have it up and running by the first month of 2014 and I’m currently creating posts and content for it – including some very interesting profiles and interviews of the designers.

Ed Wiener pearl and silver designs

Ed Wiener pearl and silver designs

The purpose of the blog will be both to educate and reveal but also, hopefully, to create a community that can help further research into the subject.  It will focus mainly on modernist American studio jewelry of the era, but will also include some of the amazing Canadian and Scandinavian designers too.

There are many stunning and amazing pieces of MCM studio jewelry out there who’s creators are nearly impossible to identify or who’s names have been lost to the decades.  I intend to make rediscovering studio designers and researching unknown hallmarks, and

Ed Wiener 1952 Choker

Ed Wiener 1952 Choker

unmarked pieces, a big part of the blog.  As part of creating content dedicated to the unidentified pieces out there I am accepting photographs of pieces by unknown designers – especially pieces that have hallmarks or signatures that have not been yet identified as belonging to a particular designer.

I want to limit this to ONLY mid century modernist jewelry – not Native American or Mexican/ Taxco jewelry.  One the biggest problems I’ve encountered with the few resources online about vintage modernist jewelry is they quickly have become overrun by people researching Mexican and Native American jewelry.  There are already many resources, both online and in exhaustive books, for Native and Mexican jewelry collectors.

If you’d like to submit a photo for the new blog or have any questions, please leave a comment below.  (You can use the comment field

Two studio modernist necklace pendants by Ed Wiener.

Two studio modernist necklace pendants by Ed Wiener.

to privately contact to me. I won’t publish your comment if the only reason for it is to supply an email address. So be sure to enter a valid email address in the field that requires it – that way I can contact you but your email will not appear publicly even if the comment is published.)

I’m also always interested in buying mid century modernist jewelry studio pieces – I prefer marked but will also look at unmarked pieces of real quality. If there is enough eventual interest it may be possible to start a small exchange or list where collectors can list or trade pieces of studio jewelry.

ED. WIENER mobile earrings, circa 1951, marked verso on both

ED. WIENER mobile earrings, circa 1951, marked verso on both

I forgot to include a rather interesting pair of earrings by Ed Wiener in my recent post about his work.  I was trying to decide if I should just add a photo of them to the previous post or if they deserved their own, and after some consideration I think they merit their own due to the significance of the design.  The earrings are tiny mobile sculptures, it’s a shame I can only post still photos of them

Ed Wiener mobile earrings, from gallery catalog pg. 35 (#29).

Ed Wiener mobile earrings, from gallery catalog pg. 35 (#29).

Calder design for mobile.

Calder design for mobile.

because a large part of the design is their movement as you wear them.  Because Wiener was a true designer, they don’t annoying cling and clang around, but simply have a rhythmic, balanced movement while being worn.  The play of the light off of the silver surface only heightens the effect.

Anjelica Huston wearing a Calder Necklace

Anjelica Huston wearing a Calder Necklace

Ed Wiener had always cited Alexander Calder as a major influence on his work and design and I think these earrings demonstrate that influence strongly.  In fact Calder’s influence on mid century design as a whole can barely be overstated, his whimsical, abstract forms and figures caught the imagination of a generation in the 1930’s.  It was a generation facing some very grim and harsh realities, and Calder’s flights of abstract fancy and beauty were a world apart from the troubling and turbulent reality of the times.

Calder Mobile

Calder Mobile

Calder worked in a wide variety of mediums, sculpture, painting, jewelry, tapestry and more. While his mobiles had the art world agog his fanciful wirework jewelry became the must-have accessory for the avant garde society ladies of 1940’s New York, with Peggy Guggenheim and other art world notables wearing his sculptural jewelry. Peggy Guggenheim bragged in her autobiography, “I am the only woman in the world who wears his enormous mobile earrings.”

Calder’s jewelry, much like his other art, was bold, brash and not for the faint of heart.  It was more a case of the art wearing you than you wearing art.  His pieces were sculptures to be worn – practicality be damned.  Calder created approximately 1800 pieces of jewelry over the course of his career.

While Wiener was definitely influenced by Calder’s designs and mobiles, a ground breaking African-American jewelry designer named Art Smith (working during the same era) more fully embraced Calder’s jewelry aesthetic – creating similar bold pieces.  Wiener’s took the design and tamed them for the female form, ensuring the person was wearing the sculpture and not vice versa.   (A fabulous article in the NYT about an 2008 exhibition of Calder’s jewelry can be found here.)

"ED. WIENER STERLING" mark on verso of mobile earrings

“ED. WIENER STERLING” mark on verso of mobile earrings

His first major works with mobiles were done in the late 1920’s and 1930’s but it took a good 20 years for them to permeate and influence the wider culture.  By the early 1950’s you had his mobile shapes and patterns showing up everywhere, becoming synonymous with mid century modern.

Shenango china's "mobile" pattern on a line of dishware

Shenango china’s “mobile” pattern on a line of dishware

A good example of how far Calder’s influence had stretched was a line of dishware made by Shenango China called the “mobile” pattern in the early 1950’s.  This particular line of dishware was created especially for restaurants, which makes it a little harder to find than other patterns sold in the retail market.  However, it is a wonderful pattern that captures the spirit of Calder’s work and exemplifies  how the wider American culture embraced his work and it has gone on to become one of the icons of mid-century design.

Ed Wiener Gold Brooch with 2 Silver Pendants, all with pearls

Ed Wiener Gold Brooch with 2 Silver Pendants, all with pearls

ED WIENER
Ed Wiener is a well known studio jewelry designer who worked out of Provincetown and Manhattan beginning in 1946 and then solely in New York City from the mid-1950’s until his death in 1986. He was significantly influenced by the work of Alexander Calder – who besides making his iconic mobile sculptures and paintings also created some groundbreaking modernist jewelry. Wiener was also influenced by fellow New York City jewelry designer and contemporary Sam Kramer and Art Smith. From the accounts I’ve read Kramer and Wiener were good friends as well as colleagues.

Ed Wiener Earrings, signed but hallmark is partially obscured by findings (org screwbacks, converted to posts)

Ed Wiener Earrings, signed but hallmark is partially obscured by findings (org screwbacks, converted to posts)

Ed Wiener was not formally trained as a jeweler or silversmith, instead he began as a metal smith working on industrial types of materials during the war effort in the early 1940’s. He was drawn to jewelry after being inspired by the artists and designers in Greenwich Village and Providence, RI and with his unique training in metal craft he brought new techniques and ideas to the art of jewelry making. His first tentative steps into jewelry design came after WWII in 1945 when he took a general crafts class at Columbia University and made a woman’s belt buckle as his first project.

Wiener identified himself with the new emerging jazz scene in New York and participated in leftist politics. He credits living in Greenwich Village and Providencetown with expanding his consciousness and helping to open up his cultural horizons. He was drawn to the arts and crafts techniques in jewelry making, before upending convention and embracing casting in the 1950’s. Wiener usually eschewed diamonds and other precious stones, viewing them as status baubles and jewelry being secondary to the stone. The stones were the focal point, the jewelry design itself a distant second. His focus on pure design led him to work with silver, it was preferred by his social circle and meant the focus would be on the design of the piece rather than the value of the metal. (Later on Wiener would embrace 18k gold as a preferred medium, after discovering ancient goldsmith work and jewelry.) Some of his early work is in gold but as he stated in his autobiographical notes (in “Jewlery By Ed Wiener”) it was simply a metal substitution. He took a design originally done in silver and simply recreated it in 14k gold.

In the early years much of Wiener’s work was in sterling silver and he also liked using pearls (he described a pearl as a fully complete work of nature as opposed to the heavy machinery and polishing required for gemstones to be created) and coral. He tended to concentrate on work that had no machinery intervention in the process, everything was to be done by hand. He was inspired by certain motifs, hammered spirals, abacuses and abstract stars are three motifs that are found regularly in his work. As he evolved he became more aware of the effects of negative space and that is reflected in his beautiful abstractions of the 1950’s.

Wiener did sign much of his work, but certainly not all of it, especially if the pieces were small or a mark would mar their appearance. However, catalogs and other reference materials make it possible to identify many unsigned pieces. Being intimately familiar with his work has made it possible for me (and others) to identify unmarked pieces which I was later able to verify as his work. These two unmarked silver necklace pendants, with a pearl on the tip, are examples.

Unsigned Ed Wiener Pendants - verified work

Unsigned Ed Wiener Pendants – verified work

I came across these pendants several years apart online. Both were only billed as “modernist sterling” but the shape and design of the pendant was so striking I had a very strong hunch it was Wiener’s work. I was able to obtain the first pendant from a seller who billed themselves as a expert in 20th century jewelry, so the fact they did not even mention the possibility of it beings Wiener’s work surprised me. I bought the first pendant purely due to its beautiful design, not knowing for sure who created it. I was later able to definitively verify it being Wiener’s work.

There is a very well known brooch design by Wiener (featured at the top of the page in gold with the two pendants) that is very similar to the design of the pendant. However, similar doesn’t cut it when it comes to verifying a designers work. So I researched quite a bit about Wiener and examples of his signed work. My first big hit was an old message board posting that showed the exact same design as the pendant, only done as a gold brooch and signed by Wiener. It made sense perfect sense. A pendant can display both sides, so you wouldn’t want to mar one side with a hallmark. On a brooch only one side of the piece is displayed, so there is no problem by using a hallmark. A year or so later another example of the pendant turned up on eBay, listed again as a piece of unknown modernist sterling, which I snapped up.

Later on I finally got a copy of “Jewelry by Ed Wiener” a small softcover book published for a retrospective exhibit of his work at Fifty/50 Gallery in NYC from Dec. 1988 – Jan. 1989. It is one of the best references you can get for Ed Wiener jewelry outside of his own catalogs and advertising from his studio – of which there isn’t a great deal. The publication allowed me to identify a few pieces of his work definitively that were unsigned.

"Jewelry by Ed Wiener"  showing design, page 38 Ref # 34

“Jewelry by Ed Wiener” showing design, page 38 Ref # 34

In the publication I found yet another version of the pendant design in the form of earrings, pictured here. Only problem with this is I now desperately want these earrings but have never seen them anywhere outside of this catalog. The design is one of my all time favorites, simple, beautiful and elegant.

I will give one warning about the gold brooch with pearl style you see above. There was another jewelry designer named Sara, who I’ve seen some associate her as being connected to Wiener in some fashion, but Ed’s own daughter in the comments below states she is unaware of any connection between them. There is a brooch with almost identical design lines, but instead of the sleek elegance of Wiener’s work, this brooch is fat, puffy and just looks terrible – especially when compared to Wiener’s piece. Apparently this was done by Sara, I have seen this “fat brooch” marked with her name but I have also seen the same fat brooch without a hallmark and being sold as “Ed Wiener.” It is easy to see the difference between the two, but I’m always worried someone will buy it thinking it is a real piece of Wiener’s unsigned work when instead it is a poor imitation done by a contemporary of his. I hate anyone associating such a inelegant piece to Wiener. But if you every see a similar brooch, only 3x as thick and without the perfectly, sleek, angular curves – you are seeing the work of Sara. ( Sara also did other work which is much nicer, but this piece is probably one of the worst examples of her work. Generally her pieces are marked, “Sara Sterling.”

STYLE and FORM

Ed Wiener 1952 Sterling Silver Choker with Pearl, signed.

Ed Wiener 1952 Sterling Silver Choker with Pearl, signed.

An example of Wiener's later 18k gold work showing medieval influence.

An example of Wiener’s later 18k gold work showing medieval influence.

When Wiener began crafting jewelry in the late 1940’s he worked mostly in sterling silver, with a few of his pieces done in 14K gold. His work shows a strong abstract expressionist element and the pieces he created during this period are among my favorite. Later in his career, from the late 1960’s until his death Wiener’s style evolved. He began studying medieval jewelry and the techniques of ancient goldsmiths. He was captivated by the color and the texture of the gold used in Medieval jewelry and as a result started working in 18K almost exclusively during the last decade of his career. The work was also heavily influenced by the medieval aesthetic, combined with Wiener’s own creativity and modernist design background.

ED WIENER HALLMARKS
Ed Wiener employed several variations on his hallmark. I have some examples pictured below. On his older silver work you will find “ED WIENER” or “ED WIENER STERLING” on the older gold work you will find “ED WIENER

"14K ED WIENER" mark found on gold brooch

“14K ED WIENER” mark found on gold brooch

14K” and on the later creations “E.W. 18K” or “ED WIENER 18K”

"ED WIENER" mark found on silver choker

“ED WIENER” mark found on silver choker

For more information on Modernist Jewelry, and pieces by Ed Wiener and other mid century jewelry designers, I highly recommend Marbeth Schon’s two books “Modernist Jewelry (1930-1960)” and “Form and Function (1940-1970)” as the two best currently available books on American mid century modernist studio jewelry. You can find copies of the books, and other information, at her website here.

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