House & Garden, October 1903
Among the fashionable and artistic women Gustav Manz created mountings for in the early 1900s was one society matron who could have stepped out of an Edith Wharton novel. Elinor Evans Klapp (1845-1915) was the second wife of William H. Klapp, a dry-goods merchant. Elinor's family were prominent Philadelphia Quakers. William Klapp was Presbyterian, considerably older than Elinor, and divorced. Her boldness compelled the Friends to "put her out of meeting" so the marriage ceremony took place at her father's home, on June 5, 1866, in the presence of Philadelphia's mayor.
In Quaker fashion, the bride did not receive a wedding ring, though she later bought herself one in Paris. Despite her expulsion she did not fall completely away from her upbringing. As her great-granddaughter recalled in a letter, "She wished 'plain' language on us," and to the end of her life used "thee" and "thou" when addressing family.
Mrs. Klapp spent most of her married life in Chicago, raising children and keeping house, before taking up jewelry design in her mid-forties. Tasteful mountings for carved gems and family heirlooms became her specialty. One of her first experiments was resetting the solitaire from her engagement ring "after her own notion" (Newark Daily Advocate, 20 August 1908).
Though a late bloomer, Mrs. K wasn't shy about promoting her work or her opinions. Her entry in the 1914 edition of Who's Who of American Women describes her as a "designer of art objects" who favored women's suffrage. An avid collector of ancient Roman and Greek intaglio, she traveled to France every August to scout unusual gems and objets at the Parisian shop of German-born antiquities dealer Raoul Heilbronner. In Rome, she later recalled, she visited the workshops of "Signor Castellani" and was smitten by the traditional craftsmanship and Etruscan-inspired gems the Castellani were known for. Another early influence was Florence Cary Koehler, the ceramicist and jewelry designer, who taught at the Architectural Sketch Club and was a founding member of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society.
Having established "a distinctive place in the arts craft movement" of the West, Mrs. Klapp envisioned a full-fledged jewelry studio supplying "exclusive custom" for wealthy friends like the Charles Pratts and "a well known prospective Chicago bride"—for whom she designed an engagement ring in the form of a red rose, "the latter a $3,000 ruby—dropped in a shower of dew—myriads of rose diamonds—rose and dew supported by rose leaves of green gold" (American Art News, 15 August 1905).
In 1908, she moved into the Bryant Park Studios, a ten-story loft building for working artists on the same block as the New York Public Library; early residents included Fernand Leger, Winslow Homer, and Edward Steichen. The nearby New York School of Applied Design for Women provided a steady supply of assistants to handle the mechanical drawing while practical craftsmen carried out the chasing and setting. Of the former group, she raved to the reporter for American Art News: "Nowhere have I found designers so quick to grasp my ideas, so skillful in working them out as among the students the school has sent to me. It is doing a praiseworthy work no only for women but for art." One of her assistants, Izabel M. Coles, an interior design student at Cooper Union from 1911-1913, went on to work in the special orders department at Tiffany & Co. before opening her own jewelry studio.
Four months later, on the first day of August, Elinor Klapp died in Clinton, New Jersey.
Though a few of her pieces are closely held by descendants, Mrs. Klapp's output is mostly preserved in a handful of arts and crafts journals, in the profiles and reviews her son Eugene took pains to feature in his magazine (or sometimes wrote himself, under the pen name Oliver Coleman), and a scrapbook of designs that has remained in the family.
"I should not mind being the great-granddaughter of some one who today buys a bit of Mrs. Klapp's work," cooed Madeline Y. Wynne in House Beautiful's December 1899 holiday gift round-up (Wynne was the daughter of the inventor of the Yale lock, and venerated as one of the first women metal artists in America).
With all the interest in grande dames of the Edwardian era in books and film, Mrs. Klapp is ripe for rediscovery—or at least a cameo on Downton Abbey.
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