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Jewelry Makers of the Village and their Provincetown Summer Studios

Provincetown, Massachusetts has long had a deep and interesting connection to Greenwich Village. As one of the largest artist colonies on the East Coast, many of the artists, thinkers, and bohemians of Greenwich Village made Provincetown their summer residence. What attracted these individuals to the region was the mix of fine artists and craftspeople. The result was two artist hubs with an intertwined history, constructed by the generations of artists that moved back and forth between the two.

A crucial example of this connection is the Provincetown Playhouse, whose beginnings started not in Greenwich Village but in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as its name implies. Provincetown was also the chosen summer home of abstract expressionists, like Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Robert Mortherwell, who were attracted to the area by Hans Hoffman, who set up a summer version of his School of Fine Arts in 1935.

Several modernist jewelry makers, who specialized in handcraft metalworks inspired by Surrealism, Cubism, and Constructivism, followed these artists to the Cape. These jewelers were largely self taught and saw themselves as “artist jewelers” whose works were not just decoration but artistic creations that reflected the culture of modernism of their time. The artists of the Village were often these jewelers’ first clients, as Modernist jewelry provided an inexpensive way to collect modern art. Several jewelers opened summer studios in Provincetown, which allowed them to follow their clientele, grow their social connections to the art world, and gain a sense of legitimacy that’s not always granted to craft artists.

Paul Lobel

Sterling Cat Brooch by Paul Lobel

Paul Lobel (1899 – 1983) was born in Romania and brought to the United States as a child, growing up on the Lower East Side. He worked as a radio operator and studied commercial art at the Pratt Institute and the Art Student League. Lobel’s career started in industrial design, and he was quickly noticed for his natural talent and innovative style. In 1928, Lobel opened up a metalwork studio, making Art Deco style accessories for hotels and showrooms. During World War II, wartime metal shortages damaged his business, so Lobel shifted his focus to smaller creations. He opened up his studio shop at 165 West 4th Street in 1944.

Silver Fish Brooch by Paul Lobel

In 1946, Lobel’s jewelry was exhibited in “Modern Handmade Jewelry” at The Museum of Modern Art, along with jewelry by Alexander Calder, Jacques Lipchitz and Richard Pousette-Dart. That exhibit was soon followed by a solo exhibition in 1948 at the Museum of Natural History on Lobel’s silver sculptures of animals. Following these exhibitions, Lobel opened up a summer studio in Provincetown, which he ran until 1953. His studio in New York also closed sometime in the 1950s.

Ed Wiener

Ed Wiener (1918 – 1991) was the son of a butcher. After high school, he took a craft course at Columbia University, where he discovered his talent for metal work and began making jewelry in his kitchen.

While Weiner is considered one of the most influential modernist jewelry makers, he never lived in Greenwich Village, nor had a studio in the area. His relationship to the Village was formed by his strong social connections to the neighborhood. He mingled in artist circles, frequented jazz clubs, and collaborated with the jewelry studios on West Fourth Street. He actually opened his first studio in Provincetown, where artists like Hans Hoffman, Barnett Newman, and Ward Bennett would come to discuss art and critique his work. Weiner called these informal conversations his version of “art school.”

Weiner’s work takes cues from Alexander Calder and jazz music, creating abstracted, curvilinear designs, instilled with a sense of movement. A notable 1947 pin, “Dancer,” was based on a famous photograph of Martha Graham. Martha Graham was also a client of Weiner.

Martha Graham performing in Letters to the World in 1941, by Barbara Morgan.

After a summer of success, Weiner returned to New York in the fall of 1946. He rented a studio on Second Avenue and 2nd Street, and opened a retail store in midtown called Arts and Ends. Arts and Ends had several locations in Midtown, staying the longest at 46 West 53rd Street, right next to the Museum of Modern Art.

Jules Brenner

Jules Brenner (1918 – 1991) started his jewelry-making career with Ed Weiner, both in New York and Provincetown, making copper trays and platters. In 1953, Weiner encouraged Brenner to open up his own shop. Located at 127 MacDougal Street, Brenner was known for putting his work bench in the front of the shop, so customers could see his process as they shopped. In 1963, he moved his shop to 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue to appeal to a wealthier clientele. At this time, he also switched from working exclusively with silver to working with gold. Brenner also had a Provincetown shop, opened in 1956, which also functioned as a gallery. Until 1972, the Jules Brenner Gallery exhibited many well-known artists, like Chaim Gross, Robert DeNiro Sr., and Jack Twarkov. In 1974, Brenner closed his New York shop and decided to live year round in Provincetown.

Jules Brenner’s Studio on MacDougal Street, 1961.
Jules Brenner Gallery and Jewelry Store in Provincetown. Published by University of Massachusetts Boston.

Claire Sprague, literary critic, Greenwich Villager, and curator of the exhibition “The Jeweler’s Art: Four Provincetown Silversmiths, 1940s -1960s,” stated “history and hindsight tell (us) that modernist jewelry is like abstract expressionism, essentially a post-World War II phenomenon.” Many often think of the various artistic media as separate spheres, when in reality they often co-mingle and inspire new forms.

One response to “Jewelry Makers of the Village and their Provincetown Summer Studios

  1. Thank you for affirming the contributions of Dr. Claire Sprague, who fought to recognize the importance and innovation of modernist jewelry in Provincetown when few others did. She worked hard to bring the exhibition to fruition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) in 2003. Since that time, and prior to her death in 2021, a colleague and former trustee of PAAM assembled and donated a significant collection of the works by these jewelers and others working in Provincetown. Other donations were made to the New York Historical Society and other institutions. She remained aware and supported these efforts even after concluding her residency on 7th Avenue and 14th Street. One of the joys of her later years was following the progress and adding insight into the curation process.

    More information can be found at “provincetownhistoryproject.com” and “ptownencyclopedia.com”. Special thanks to David W. Dunlap for his efforts.

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