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 Schooling 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 principal objective was not simply to jot down about Smith and his improvements with false pearls. I additionally needed to see his expertise captured and exhibited so a wider viewers may see the fantastic thing about his work. I’m blissful to see a few of the first steps to convey Invoice Smith to the world, through 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 a listing 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 bought below my pores and skin. I began scouring every kind of internet sites, museums, libraries, and so forth., to seek out every part I may about him. I’ve bought a 4½-inch-thick binder of the analysis I’ve completed 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. Sooner or later, we found that we had a extremely spectacular assortment and sufficient data to inform his story. It then grew to become my objective to have an exhibit in order that our area people may rediscover the abilities of considered one of their very own.

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

JoAnne Spiller: We ended up discovering a couple 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 at the least half-hour every morning checking numerous public sale websites for items so as to add to the gathering. My lofty objective is to have 100 items. I’m unsure I can attain that, particularly if the phrase will get out once more about his expertise! The competitors at auctions could develop into powerful!

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 individuals, and so forth. The truth that he was in a position to go to an built-in highschool was fairly superb. Luckily, he had an artwork trainer who inspired him to pursue his targets. He labored arduous 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 significantly welcome on his uncommon visits dwelling, so he simply give up visiting. He had a sophisticated relationship along with his father. In response to 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 at all times 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 kin.

His household relocated to Indianapolis within the late 50s, when he was in his mid-20s, and I suppose he didn’t have the connections in Madison to maintain him coming again. He was at all times making an attempt to elevate 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 palms that, as he mentioned, “They caress or battle. They offer life or kill. It’s the inevitable love-hate potential that I discover fascinating.”

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

Why do you consider 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 now not round to ask what his previous few years as a designer had been like. His jewellery was actually “in your face.” Once you have a look at developments, designs go out and in of style rapidly. Additionally, Invoice didn’t have contracts to signal all of his work, so there are lots of collections on the market which might be attributed to him however not signed by him. It typically takes plenty of investigation to corroborate a bit with a group. I’m certain there are items on the market which might be his, however the proprietor in all probability has no concept who created them. His great-niece mentioned he was nonetheless designing up till his demise, however I’m not certain if these designs ever made it to manufacturing.

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

JoAnne Spiller: It depends upon the day! Some I’m keen on as a result of they’re so stunning: 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. To this point, the elephant medallion necklace is the winner.

Do you propose to journey the present to different areas the place extra individuals 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 consider 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 Large Apple, irrespective of their life circumstances. In case you’ve bought expertise and drive, you are able to do something you set your thoughts to.

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