A Hometown Exhibition of Invoice Smith’s Jewellery

  • Invoice Smith: Madison’s Visionary Jewellery Designer confirmed in Smith’s Indiana hometown
  • It ran October 18–December 9, 2022, on the Historical past Middle of Madison, IN
  • JoAnne Spiller, the Training Coordinator on the Jefferson County Historic Society (JCHS), organized the exhibition

In September 2022, I documented the life and work of Invoice Smith for an article for Artwork Jewellery Discussion board. He had so sadly been forgotten in historical past. I hoped to begin the method of rebuilding his legacy. Nevertheless, my fundamental aim was not simply to jot down about Smith and his improvements with false pearls. I additionally wished to see his expertise captured and exhibited so a wider viewers would possibly see the great thing about his work. I’m blissful to see among the first steps to carry Invoice Smith to the world, by way of the JCHS’s exhibition on Smith and his work. I used to be delighted to speak with the curator of the present, JoAnne Spiller. We mentioned the exhibition itself, and Smith’s difficult relationship with the neighborhood in his hometown.

Sebastian Grant: How did you first encounter Invoice Smith and his work?

JoAnne Spiller: My curiosity in Invoice started after we had been placing collectively an inventory of “well-known Madisonians” for a guide I plan to jot down. We had a newspaper clipping from the Louisville Courier in addition to a donation of his horse pendant and a few lapel buttons. Upon checking our paper and object archives, we realized we had nothing else on him. I’m not from Madison, so I had no concept that Invoice Smith had been forgotten by his hometown.

What led to the JCHS’s resolution to exhibit Smith’s work?

JoAnne Spiller: His story acquired below my pores and skin. I began scouring every kind of internet sites, museums, libraries, and so on., to seek out every thing I may about him. I’ve acquired a 4½-inch-thick binder of the analysis I’ve executed on him over the previous two+ years, and have spoken to a member of the family and a former co-worker about Invoice’s life. Someday, we found that we had a very spectacular assortment and sufficient info to inform his story. It then turned my aim to have an exhibit in order that our area people may rediscover the skills of certainly one of their very own.

Since Invoice Smith’s work is uncommon, how did the JCHS purchase so many great examples of his items in its everlasting assortment?

JoAnne Spiller: We ended up discovering a number of items of his jewellery pretty inexpensively on-line after we began placing his story collectively. That led to my (some would say) obsession with discovering extra items to construct our everlasting assortment. I’m on-line for a minimum of half-hour every morning checking varied public sale websites for items so as to add to the gathering. My lofty aim is to have 100 items. I’m undecided I can attain that, particularly if the phrase will get out once more about his expertise! The competitors at auctions might turn into robust!

How did Invoice Smith slot in with the neighborhood of Madison? Do you assume this relationship is mirrored in his work?

JoAnne Spiller: Invoice grew up in an period of segregation. From what I’ve been informed, Madison was a typical small city on the time: the pool was off limits, there have been separate entrances for Black folks, and so on. The truth that he was in a position to go to an built-in highschool was fairly wonderful. Thankfully, he had an artwork trainer who inspired him to pursue his targets. He labored onerous to get into Indiana College (IU) and pay his tuition. His artwork trainer/mentor at IU noticed sufficient expertise in him that she inspired him to go to New York.

He didn’t really feel notably welcome on his uncommon visits house, so he simply give up visiting. He had a sophisticated relationship together with his father. In keeping with Briton Sargent, his great-niece, Invoice’s father had initially disowned him for his homosexuality. They appear to have reconciled earlier than Robert handed away. Madison has all the time been a small, conservative neighborhood with regard to race and sexual orientation. Invoice wouldn’t have had many allies right here and wasn’t near most of his relations.

His household relocated to Indianapolis within the late 50s, when he was in his mid-20s, and I assume he didn’t have the connections in Madison to maintain him coming again. He was all the time making an attempt to raise up different Black youth and was concerned within the civil rights motion. A few of his work displays the significance of his ethnicity. Others—just like the hand-shaped jewellery he made for Georg Jensen—mirror his perception about arms that, as he stated, “They caress or combat. They provide life or kill. It’s the inevitable love-hate potential that I discover fascinating.”

Exhibition view, Invoice Smith: Madison’s Visionary Jewellery Designer, photograph courtesy of Jefferson County Historic Society

Why do you imagine Smith’s work has fallen into obscurity?

JoAnne Spiller: That’s a tricky query to reply. Invoice handed away so a few years in the past that most individuals who labored with him or knew him are not round to ask what his previous couple of years as a designer had been like. His jewellery was actually “in your face.” Whenever you have a look at developments, designs go out and in of trend rapidly. Additionally, Invoice didn’t have contracts to signal all of his work, so there are numerous collections on the market which are attributed to him however not signed by him. It usually takes numerous investigation to corroborate a bit with a group. I’m positive there are items on the market which are his, however the proprietor most likely has no concept who created them. His great-niece stated he was nonetheless designing up till his dying, however I’m not positive if these designs ever made it to manufacturing.

What are a few of your favourite items from the present?

JoAnne Spiller: It is dependent upon the day! Some I’m keen on as a result of they’re so lovely: the peacock pendant. I really feel related to others as a result of they had been hard-won at public sale: the ocean dragon. We’ve been working a ballot on guests’ favorites. Thus far, the elephant medallion necklace is the winner.

Do you propose to journey the present to different areas the place extra folks can see his work?

JoAnne Spiller: It’s my hope that different museums will see this exhibit as one thing they want to borrow from us. I’d hate to assume that Invoice’s story would solely keep regional. The exhibit has gotten some actually nice press within the Louisville Metro space, in order that’s a begin!

What do you imagine is the least a customer ought to take from the present?

JoAnne Spiller: Except for his apparent expertise and enterprise acumen? That somebody from a small city in southeastern Indiana could make it huge within the Massive Apple, regardless of their life circumstances. Should you’ve acquired expertise and drive, you are able to do something you set your thoughts to.

Design by Bill Smith
Design by Invoice Smith, photograph courtesy of Jefferson County