The earliest jewelry worn in America was of a sentimental nature, related to love and marriage or to death and mourning. In her lecture, Wees will discuss the domestic industry that began to take root in the nineteenth century against a backdrop of financial prosperity and technological progress. Newark, New Jersey, became home to countless manufacturers, and the iconic firms of Gorham and Tiffany & Co. were established. On New York’s Fifth Avenue, premier jewelers such as Tiffany & Co. and Cartier were joined by other high-end establishments, including Dreicer & Co., E. M. Gattle, Verdura, David Webb, and Raymond Yard. From about 1890 until the outbreak of World War I, Art Nouveau flourished across Europe and was emulated in this country. Many American jewelers of this era also turned to historical and exotic precedents for their sources, while almost simultaneously, Great Britain’s Arts and Crafts movement inspired American jewelers to create small-batch studio production. Wees will conclude her lecture with a brief look at mid-twentieth-century artists whose modernist designs paved the way for the innovative jewelry of contemporary practitioners, including Daniel Brush, William Harper, and Joyce J. Scott.
Wees is the Ruth Bigelow Wriston Curator of American Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she oversees the collections of American silver and jewelry. Prior to joining the Met’s staff in 2000, she was Curator of Decorative Arts at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She lectures internationally and is the author of numerous articles and books, including English, Irish & Scottish Silver at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (1997) and the 2013 catalogue, Early American Silver in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wees holds degrees in art history from Smith College and the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. An alumna of the Attingham Summer School and the Royal Collection Studies, she is currently President of the board of the American Friends of Attingham. She was one of six organizing curators for The Met’s 2018–2019 exhibition Jewelry: The Body Transformed, as well as a contributor to its catalogue. In June 2019 she opened a special installation of The Met’s American jewelry, which will remain on view until April of 2020.