Beth Carver Wees is Curator Emerita, The American Wing, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where for 20 years she has overseen the collections of American silver, jewelry, and other metalwork. She holds degrees in art history from Smith College and the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.
Her exhibition Jewelry for America was on view at The Met from June 2019 to May 2021. Its five chronological sections explored changes in styles, materials, and techniques, all woven into a sociohistorical narrative and included a brief look at mid-20th-century artists whose modernist designs paved the way for contemporary innovations.
The earliest jewelry worn in America was of a sentimental nature, related to love and marriage or to death and mourning. In the early nineteenth century, a domestic industry took root. Newark, New Jersey, became home to some 200 manufacturers, and the iconic firms of Gorham and Tiffany & Co. were established. On New York’s Fifth Avenue, upscale jewelry houses strove to compete with European brands, while Britain’s Arts & Crafts movement inspired American jewelers to create small-batch studio production. Collectively, the pieces featured in the Jewelry for America exhibition tell the story of how American jewelers absorbed and reinterpreted lessons from a vast global history to create a rich and varied body of work.