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May 13th, 2009
Museum Celebrates Philadelphia's Extensive Metalworking History with Exhibition of Sculpture and Jewelry

Philadelphia has a rich history of metalwork, and owes much of its early development to the industrial welders who helped shape the city during its settlement. The city has continued to rely on the skills of metalsmiths, who have gradually incorporated ornate design into functional works over the centuries. In conjunction with 800 metalsmiths arriving in Philadelphia for the 40th-annual conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) May 20 to 23, the Museum celebrates the city’s longstanding metalworking heritage with Wrought & Crafted: Jewelry and Metalwork 1900 to the Present, organized by Elisabeth Agro, the Nancy M. McNeil Associate Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts. The exhibition opens May 9 and runs through January 2010 in the North Auditorium Gallery.

Showcasing more than 50 works, Wrought & Crafted highlights the Museum’s extensive holdings of 20th- and 21st-century hollow-ware, sculpture and jewelry, documenting the development of metalwork over the past two centuries.

“Hosting this year’s SNAG conference in Philadelphia provides an excellent opportunity to show the extraordinary range and history of achievement, ranging from sculpture to jewelry,” Agro said. “The Museum has an extensive collection of historic metalwork, and it’s an honor to be welcoming so many talented present-day metalsmiths to Philadelphia to experience what that rich heritage has given us.”

The works on display in the North Auditorium Gallery are striking in their diversity, ranging from Samuel Yellin’s early 20th-century “Pair of Interior Gates” (1925), to Jonathan Bonner’s modern copper sculpture “Open Ends” (1998).

The exhibition also encompasses smaller, intricately designed pieces of jewelry, incorporating precious jewels, rubber, resin, eggshells and polymer clay into the designs and depicting the great versatility of the medium.

Crowning the jewelry division of the exhibition is a necklace by Ford/Forlano titled “Pillow Collar Necklace” (2009), an elaborate, expansive piece made of overlapping forms of polymer clay, silver and gold. Commissioned by the Museum in memory of its late director, Anne d’Harnoncourt, with funds generously provided by the Women’s Committee, the ornate “Pillow Collar Necklace” reflects the intersection between the solid lines of the more traditionally crafted sculptures, and the delicate, whimsical touches applied to the brooches and rings in the exhibition.

Wrought & Crafted surveys work by metalsmiths from around the country, but the exhibition particularly highlights the talents of notable Philadelphians, among them Olaf Koogfors, Samuel Yellin, Bruce Metcalf and Stanley Lechtzin, as well as Sharon Church, who, in her capacity as Professor of Metals at the University of the Arts, acted as a mentor to Melanie Bilenker, the youngest artist represented in the exhibition. Bilenker’s “Chocolate” (2008), a delicate piece using human hair to fashion an image inside a gold frame, was purchased with funds contributed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Craft Show Committee in honor of Louise K. Binswanger, a former committee member and a founder of the Craft Show.

“We are thrilled to present an exhibition that examines metalwork in such depth, and which showcases the permanent collection in the Museum,” Agro said. “The tradition of metalworking and Philadelphia have gone hand-in-hand since the 17th century, which is especially evident as we welcome pre-emergent, emerging, midcareer and established metalsmiths to Philadelphia to celebrate the great history and continued presence of wrought and crafted metalwork in our city.”

Attention Assignment Editors: In conjunction with Wrought & Crafted, a special event co-sponsored by the Women’s Committee and the Society of North American Goldsmiths will take place May 21, 2009 in the Museum’s Great Stair Hall at 7:30 p.m. Organized by Philadelphia-based curator Gail Brown, “Jewelry in Motion” will feature a collection of 32 extravagant pieces of wearable art, worn by live models who will parade down the Great Stair Hall. Creative expression dictates the pieces included in “Jewelry in Motion,” with elaborate, exotic works setting the tone of the show. Unusual materials such as felt, rubber and stainless-steel will be on display, in addition to one piece of “invisible” jewelry, only viewable under ultraviolent light. The event is sold out to the general public.

For more information: Wrought and Crafted: Jewelry and Metalwork 1900–Present

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