Ruth & Svetozar (Toza) Radakovich created some of the most exquisite, unique and recognizable pieces of mid century American jewelry. Their designs have left a lasting impression on the modern design and studio jewelry movement.
Though they were also known for work in painting, sculpture and architectural pieces it is their jewelry that takes ones breath away. The modernist studio jewelry of the Radakovich’s, and other modern designers of the era, is usually cited as part of the “wearable art movement” due to the sculptural and artistic nature of the pieces. However, the intricate nature, finest craftsmanship and groundbreaking designs make the work of the Radakovich’s stand out as the very best of the era and their work is instantly recognizable and unmistakable.
Ruth Radakovich and her husband Svetozar (Toza) Radakovich, were classically trained artists who became leading designers of 20th century modernist studio jewelry. Working together as a couple the Radakovich’s were known for their painstaking planing of their designs with each piece being completely unique – no two pieces look alike and most of their work was one-of-a-kind.
From their near immediate success with jewelry design in the late 50′s, with Ruth winning the top prize in the Second National Exhibition of American Jewelry in 1956 she continued to create jewelry and art until her untimely death in 1975, at 54, of ovarian cancer. Toza would live another 23 years in which time he would be declared a “Living Treasure” of California and add to the body of work.
Today – as has been the norm for at least 2 decades – their work is only held in private collections or in Museums such as The Boston Museum of Fine Art, and The Museum of Art & Design in New York City. The work continues to be shown in exhibitions showcasing the best of mid-century modern design and modern jewelry, citing all the exhibitions and awards featuring their work could fill entire pages.
Radakovich jewelry is exceptionally rare, whereas many studio jewelers created a design and produced hundreds of examples, the Radakovich’s were known for creating unique, one-of-a-kind pieces which took inordinate amounts of time to perfect and complete. I have contacted many of the leading dealers and collectors of mid-century modern jewelry over the years about their work only to be told is virtually unobtainable or nearly impossible to come by. Outside of museums who have examples of their work in permanent collections, their work is in private collections. The Radakovich’s oldest daughter Jean is currently documenting the history of her parents work and trying the exhausting task of documenting examples of their work; and asking owners to register examples at her website http://www.radakovich.org.
Thanks to a recent museum deaccession we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present two exceptional pieces of work by the Radakovich’s created in the 1960’s.
One is a ring by Ruth designed in 1966 and the other a necklace pendant by Svetzoar created in 1967. This has allowed us to do a more in-depth look at two pieces of their work, pieces which have not been exhibited to the public since 1966 where they were exhibited in the “Craftsmen USA” Exhibition. After the Exhibition, the pieces were held onto by the Radakovich’s with the ring adorned by Ruth herself often wearing it during the openings of her exhibitions. Later, they were sold to friends. Some years later they were both donated to a museum and through deaccession in 2013 were released.
It’s been a rare opportunity to photograph these pieces and we decided to take in-depth photographs from multiple perspectives. Most museum show one photograph of their Radakovich pieces, which doesn’t allow viewers to appreciate the sculptural elements of the pieces nor give accurate feeling of the scale or scope of their designs. So it with some enthusiasm that we are able to present a gold pendant sculpture from Svetozar Radakovich designed and produced in 1966 and a gold and topaz cocktail ring by Ruth Radakovich created in 1966. After the 1966 exhibit, Ruth edited the ring to reduce the number of hanging bells, probably due to constant entanglement. Years later the piece would go into the possession of friends of the family and finally a museum.
First is this large cocktail ring by Ruth Radakovich. Made of 14K and 18K gold, this four and one quarter inch length cocktail ring has a naturally terminating Imperial Topaz at the base with intricate, and unique abstract designs featured on both sides of the ring. If there was any doubt as to the piece being practical jewelry, the arrangement of balanced bells at the tip makes clear it is no ordinary ring for casual circumstance. According to Ruth’s daughter, Ruth would often wear the ring with the seed pod going over the palm allowing Ruth to hold another object or a persons hand with the ring being very visible.
The design offers a new perspective from any angle viewed and something new can be observed about the design from any perspective.
It is noted that the Radakovich’s readily used rare metals in their works and while most designers entrust inherent value to rare gem stones or precious metals in their designs, the Radakovich’s instead chose stones, crystals and a host of other materials to compliment their work. Today, it is true to say the great many pieces of jewelry are nothing without their “valuable” stones or gold weight whereas with the work of the Radakovich’s the stone or metal used is never first to catch your eye, it is always the extraordinary, unique shape and beauty of their design that attracts immediate notice. With most contemporary jewelry, if you remove the stones it’s a case of “The Emperor has no clothes”.
This is powerfully illustrated in the black and white photos of their jewelry, or their sculptures produced from simple steel. When I first saw examples of their work in an old jewelry exhibition catalog the photos were in black and white. I was surprised to learn years later that many of the designs were wrought in gold, where I had assumed it was done in silver or copper. Only after repeated viewings did I start thinking about the materials used in their creations, because the designs were so overwhelming on their own.
The pendant from Toza Radakovich was produced in 1966 using the lost-wax method of casting 14K gold. On the surface of the sculpture the fingerprints of Toza can be seen, from where they were first impressed as he sculpted the wax.
A black braid cord is affixed to large gold clasps specially made to lock onto the pendant, and with a weight of over 50 grams and a height of over two and one half inches rests well, seemingly designed for either a woman or man, it appears most appropriate on a man’s figure. It is also over 3/4″ deep so it protrudes from the chest boldly, and provides a different aspect depending on your viewing position.
Again a close inspection of the sculpture shows the figure to the left is a Cyclops and it is thought that while Uranus wasn’t a cyclops (though his partner Gaea gave birth to them) that the image presented here shows Uranus with Gaea and the birth of an offspring in Greek Mythology.
In summary these two sculptures represent two distinctive styles used – and yet share some of the same creation techniques. We know they assisted each other often in creating sculptures and if we look at the breasts of the figurine in the pendant and the bells on the ring we see almost identical hallmarks of design and there is little doubt Toza and Ruth both worked on the Ring. Both items are marked by the artists with their signature monogram and as should exist with any Radakovich piece – provenance. No artists since have created such pieces or any to a likeness of the Radakovich’s, because as with all great artists, “History Never Repeats”.
In “Objects:USA” by Lee Nordness, he says of the Radakovichs:
“Among the outstanding artist-craftsmen represented in this book, none stands out more clearly for their mastery of many media than Ruth and Svetozar Radakovich“.
In retrospect of their own work and all art they had this to say:
“In an age of the personality cult, it has become necessary to sell the artist along with the art. This, and the time pressure – essentially irrelevant to art itself – have introduced strong negative forces. These do violate the basic act of the artist, which is some form of positive, dynamic thinking, the growing and extending of the general vision, if only occasionally and imperceptibly. It is the most human of acts. It generates in the mind and soul the power that makes possible the realization of the fullest dimensions of life. Perhaps that’s why the work should stand alone. The artist becomes irrelevant, as was in ancient Peru and ‘darkest’ Africa.” – Ruth and Svetozar Radakovich
And so it is you know a Radakovich creation when you see one. From the “simplest” to the “most complex” they all stand alone.