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
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.