Brands Jewelers

Art Smith, 20th century modern jeweler

Earings in brass.
Earings in brass.

How a simple black guy from Cuba became the most influential jeweler in America in the 60s: The steel character and silver abstractions of Arthur Smith.

Modernette cuff in brass and copper.
Modernette cuff in brass and copper.

The biography of jeweler Arthur Smith is full of contrasts. He never fit into the roles and demands that society placed on him. Smith was a black guy from Cuba – and one of the most influential American jewelers of the mid-20th century. He was warned against an artistic career – and he began to create in spite of it. His jewelry was worn by Eleanor Roosevelt and all the dark-skinned bohemians of New York. He survived misunderstanding, bullying and threats of physical violence – and remained in history not only as a creator, but also as an inspirer.

Brooch in brass.
Brooch in brass.
Necklace in silver, lapis and turquoise.
Necklace in silver, lapis and turquoise.

Arthur Smith was born in 1917. His parents moved to Cuba from Jamaica. After completing his studies at school, he continued his education in the field of art and even received a scholarship to study. He decided to pursue sculpture and took a night course in jewelry making at New York University.

After graduating in 1940, Smith worked first for the National Youth Administration and then for Junior Achievement, an organization that helps teenagers choose careers and solve employment problems.

Earings in brass.2
Earings in brass.

Education as a sculptor allowed Smith to create not just jewelry, but jewelry sculptures. While attending a jewelry course, he met another jewelry designer of his skin color, Winifred Mason, who had already achieved some success. She became his mentor, gave him a lot of valuable advice and offered him his first job – she had a small jewelry studio and store in Greenwich Village, and Smith became her permanent assistant.

Having gained experience, in 1946 he moved to Cornelia Street, in the so-called “Italian Quarter”, and opened his own business there – a workshop and a small shop.

Rings in silver, cornelian, and jade.
Rings in silver, cornelian, and jade.
Earings in silver.
Earings in silver.

After some time, he managed to find good premises in a very bohemian area of the city – not far from Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village. Here he felt at home, made many new acquaintances and felt what it meant to be… accepted.

Smith found himself at the center of attraction for black bohemians in New York. His friend, choreographer Tally Beatty, introduced him to many artists, dancers, and performers who were amazed by his bold ideas and began ordering jewelry from him. Since Arthur Smith began making jewelry for members of the stage, he was able to fully develop as a jeweler of the “sculptural” direction – creating large, bright, extravagant forms, noticeable from afar and corresponding to the artistic expression of their owners.

Necklace in brass and tiger eye.
Necklace in brass and tiger eye.
Earings in brass.3
Earings in brass.3

His career took off. In addition, he began selling his jewelry to stores in Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, and then large boutiques in Manhattan, Houston, Dallas became interested in him… Photos of his work, whimsical, strange, curved, intricate, appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

He received two prestigious commissions from the National Association for the Advancement of People. Commissioned to design a brooch for Eleanor Roosevelt and make cufflinks for Duke Ellington. This is how the jewelry of a black guy from Cuba, whose windows were broken by neighbors just recently, appeared in the collections of people with status, money and power.

Brooch in gold and opals.
Brooch in gold and opals.

Success – including financial – allowed Arthur to begin creating jewelry from precious metals and experiment more and more with designs. In 1969, he had his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York. This was followed by a whole series of exhibitions and awards. But, unfortunately, the most striking retrospective exhibitions of Art Smith took place after his death – the jeweler died in 1982, twenty-two years after his first heart attack. However, this was Arthur Smith – neither threats, nor prejudices, nor illness could stop him. Death could not either: his legacy was truly appreciated already in the nineties.

Necklace in cooper.
Necklace in cooper.
Brooch in cooper and brass.
Brooch in cooper and brass.
Earings in sterling silver.
Earings in sterling silver.
Cuff in sterling silver.
Cuff in sterling silver.
Ring in sterling silver, malachite, lapis and cornelian.
Ring in sterling silver, malachite, lapis and cornelian.
Art Smith Bracelets.
Art Smith Bracelets.
Biomorphic style necklace.
Biomorphic style necklace.
Biomorphic style necklace.3
Biomorphic style necklace.
Necklace and bracelet made of copper.
Necklace and bracelet made of copper.
Necklace and brooch.
Necklace and brooch.
Abstract brooch.
Abstract brooch.
Brooch.
Brooch.
Spiral necklace.
Spiral necklace.
Gold plated collar necklace.
Gold plated collar necklace.
Necklace and ring with references to surrealism.
Necklace and ring with references to surrealism.
Art Smith 1950's Modernist Tiger's Eye Brass Sphere Vintage Collar Necklace.
1950’s Modernist Tiger’s Eye Brass Sphere Vintage Collar Necklace.
Art Smith Studio Sterling Silver Earrings.
Studio Sterling Silver Earrings.
Art Smith Studio Brass American Modernist Earrings.
Art Smith Studio Brass American Modernist Earrings.
Art Smith Icicle Brass Cuff Bracelet.
Art Smith Icicle Brass Cuff Bracelet.
Art Smith Brass American Modernist Earrings.
Brass American Modernist Earrings.
Art Smith Copper Brass American Modernist Earrings.
Art Smith Copper Brass American Modernist Earrings.
Art Smith Sterling Silver Abstract Modernist Earrings.
Art Smith Sterling Silver Abstract Modernist Earrings.
Art Smith Mid Century Modernist Silver Brooch.
Mid Century Modernist Silver Brooch.
Art Smith Copper Kinetic Mobile New York Modernist Earrings.
Copper Kinetic Mobile New York Modernist Earrings.
Vintage Modernist Art Smith Silver Chandelier Earrings.
Vintage Modernist Art Smith Silver Chandelier Earrings.
Art Smith Vintage Cufflinks.
Art Smith Vintage Cufflinks.
Art Smith Modernist Mobile Earrings.
Art Smith Modernist Mobile Earrings.
rtSmith 1940s Geometric Gaps Silver Copper Brass Modern Sculptural Wire Cuff.
Smith 1940s Geometric Gaps Silver Copper Brass Modern Sculptural Wire Cuff.
Pair of Iconic Art Smith Modernette Cuffs.
Pair of Iconic Art Smith Modernette Cuffs.