Saturday, April 7, 2012


On January 6, 1916, a young designer named Izabel (originally Isabelle) M. Coles called at Gustav Manz's jewelry studio near Madison Square and purchased a pearl stickpin portraying "Shylock"—one of a series of whimsical miniatures Manz carved for his wholesale clients. 


From top: Izabel M. Coles, circa 1940s; production note in Gustav Manz costbook: "Item 312: B[aroque] Pearl Shylock head. Sold, Isabelle M. Coles 1/6/16"; Gustav Manz sketch and photo of carved bust set with baroque pearl "turban" (Headshot of Coles via Antiques Road Show; stickpin drawing, Gustav Manz archive at Winterthur Museum; photo of Manz figural pin, private collection)

The Renaissance trompe l'oeil trick of using Baroque pearls to stand in for figural details was a Manz specialty. Other motifs from this line were a Turk, a Moor, a woman in milkmaid's cap (a Tricoteuse?), a medieval German Warrior, an Arab, a Native American Indian, a Roman Gladiator, and an American Eagle covering its nest egg. (The United States had not yet joined the Allies in declaring war against the Kaiser, and Manz may have been hedging his bets as a businessman by offering an array of nationalistic symbols.) 

Apart from that lone transaction recorded in his costbooks, Manz's acquaintance with his customer is as mysterious as Coles herself. City directories and other sources reveal that after receiving a diploma from Cooper Union in 1912, Coles worked at Persian Rug Manufacturing Co., then for several years as assistant to another Manz client: Elinor Evans Klapp (Mrs. William H. Klapp), a designer of jewelry and decorative objects who occupied one of the artist studios at 80 West 40th Street, a fashionable Beaux Arts building overlooking Bryant Park 
designed by Lamb & Rich. 

Gouache cartoon for a platinum and diamond pendant with carved moonstone from Mrs. William H. Klapp's design scrapbook; the drawing may relate to a pendant entitled "Love on a Snail" exhibited by Mrs. Klapp at Chicago Art Institute in 1914  
(Bronson Family Collection)

By the time Coles came under her wing, Mrs. Klapp had been providing custom mountings for private clients for well over a decade, first in Chicago and then in New York, where she'd moved with her husband (a dry goods merchant) after his retirement. She exhibited her jewelry, all fabricated by hired hands, at gallery shows and international expos. During Coles' tenure, Mrs. Klapp received the Arthur Heun Prize for best crafts-work of original design at the Chicago Art Institute's 13th Annual Exhibition of Industrial Art (an honor previously won by fellow-Society of Arts and Crafts members Josephine Hartwell Shaw and Margaret Rogers). Klapp lent pieces to Newark Museum's inaugural jewelry exhibition, in 1914, featuring the carved gems she favored: moonstone, amethyst, and crystallite. 

Entry in Gustav Manz business ledger for a gothic revival style ring set with lapis intaglio purchased from Mrs. William H. Klapp and sold to Combes & Van Roden in 1917 
(Gustav Manz archive, Winterthur Museum Library) 

Coles' job with Mrs. Klapp ended with her employer's death in August 1915; she returned to decorating for a few months, designing a pair of Persian panels for a New York house, before joining Louis Tiffany's art jewelry department under Meta Overbeck in 1917 (see Janet Zapata, The Jewelry and Enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1993; and Clare Phillips, Bejewelled by Tiffany, 2006).

Coles remained close to her mother, Hester Moulton Coles—who had separated from Isabelle's father, Robert MacQuoid, shortly after their daughter's birth and kept her family name. In 1912, Hester—who listed her occupation as dressmaker—married a prosperous rope manufacturer, Isaac Leroy Allen (1845-1925). When he died, Hester moved in with Izabel at 15 West 11th Street. 
Following her mother's death, in December 1929, Coles rented a flat in an apartment building on West 55th Street. By this time Coles (who rechristened herself Izabel after entering Cooper Union) had left Tiffany's employ and established her own studio at 19 East 57th Street. In 1931, she received this glowing notice in Harper's Bazaar: 

"Here's a suggestion: Design your Personality into your Jewellery. And an idea that no woman would not be intrigued with, particularly when such a charming artist and craftswoman as Miss Izabel M. Coles interprets your personality into a resplendent necklace of varicoloured sapphires, set in a medieval design..." 

Designs for a parure with faceted stones 
designed by Izabel M. Coles  
(Screen shot from WGBH Antiques Roadshow)

The New Yorker placed Coles at the top of its directory of "Little Jewelers" in its December 3, 1932 issue. Though the Depression hit manufacturing jewelers hard, Izabel may have come into her own money after her mother died, and had an extensive network of family and social connections to fall back on. One of them was Beth Benton Sutherland, a gem carver whose miniatures carved on moonstone became coveted by the portrait-seeking classes. 

Beth Sutherland at her bench
(The New York Evening Post, January 11, 1928)

A decade younger than Coles, Sutherland was newly graduated from Skidmore College in summer 1921 when she entered the workshop of Ottavio Negri, a master gem engraver. Born in Rome, Negri had trained with the best carvers in Italy (including the workshop where Augustus St. Gaudens apprenticed) and later served as secretary of a society of gem collectors and lapidaries of which J. P. Morgan was president. Negri's business card featured an embossed silhouette of Dante Alighieri and a list of honors including medals at the Paris Exposition (1879), London Crystal Palace (1888) and Chicago World's Fair (1889). As Sutherland later recounted, she had to wage a campaign to persuade Negri to let her work as an unpaid apprentice in his shop. Eventually his "office girl" left to get married, and she took her job. She likely met Coles through Negri, as he'd engraved gems for Coles' former employer, Mrs. Klapp, and was one of the early residents at the Bryant Park Studio Building.

Detail from Ottavio Negri business card 
(Collection of Negri's great-grandson)

One of Sutherland's most publicized commissions was a necklace of platinum links strung with twelve moonstone medallions, each portraying the face of one of Mrs. John J. Raskob's children. (In August 1929, Raskob's husband—one of America's wealthiest men—advised Ladies Home Journal readers that anyone could become rich simply by investing $15 a month in common stocks over a period of years; two months after the article, the market crashed.) 
Sutherland cut portraits on other gems, but was particularly drawn to moonstone for its lustre and because traditional carvers did not make much use of it so her work would stand out from the antique. 

While her forte was capturing the countenances of children, she also cut portraits of adults—including Edward S. Harkness, whose likeness was carved on a large moonstone as a gift to his wife and later made its way into the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The design for the mounting was Coles's, executed by New York goldsmith Vincent Provenzano. The moonstone used in the piece, provided by Tiffany gem expert George Kunz, was said to have been "a rare one" (see Bejewelled).

Intaglio portrait of Edward S. Harkness, c.1929. Carved on moonstone by Beth Benton Sutherland, with gold, diamond, and emerald mounting designed by Izabel M. Coles and executed by goldsmith Vincent Provenzano
(Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection)

In August 1938, the Harkness gem was the centerpiece of a joint exhibit of Sutherland and Coles' work at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Framed by emeralds and yellow and brown diamonds in a filigree scroll pattern, with emeralds incorporated in a chain, so that it could be worn close to Mrs. Harkness' heart. (Though perhaps not too far from home: one newspaper noted that the value of several pieces in the exhibit was so great their owners' names were withheld "out of concern for personal safety.")   

Catalog for "Gem Portraits" exhibit, April-September 1938 (Berkshire Museum Archives) 

Coles designed all the mountings for Sutherland's miniatures, with Vincent Provenzano and Herman Koechendoerfer fabricating. Arnold Belais—whose family firm patented a non-tarnishable white-gold substitute for platinum—created one of Coles' individual pieces. 

Sutherland argued for a new age of craftsmanship in a piece for Magazine Antiques ("Antiques for the Future") that included examples of her intaglio work. The incised portraits in this bracelet were connected by rivets so the stones could be detached and set in four separate rings
(Image from Magazine Antiques, January 1947)

Sutherland continued to take commissions while raising a family with her artist husband, Charles Molseley Sutherland. Fearing that practitioners of the glyptic art might vanish within a generation, she funneled her story and practical know-how into a book, The Romance of Seals and Engraved Gems (1965), then dedicated the work to Negri. 

Coles, by contrast, seems to have followed fashion trends in materials and style, making the leap from gothic arabesques for Mrs. Klapp and Tiffany, to her own gem-carved floral jewelry designs in the 1930s, to adornments composed of enameled safety pins for a group show of "Modern Handmade Jewelry" (1946-1947) at the Museum of Modern Art. A press release in MoMA's archive referred to "new work by Izabel M. Coles of New York City, formerly of Tiffany's... suggestive of ancient Egyptian adornments..." Exhibitors included Alexander Calder and Anni Albers, who also emphasized everyday material and "found objects" (a brooch by another craftsman, Paris-born jeweler and engraver Marc Koven, of the firm Koven Frères, pushed the envelope with pieces incorporating fused earth taken from the atomic testing grounds in Alamogordo, New Mexico).  

 Izabel M. Coles jewelry and drawings awaiting appraisal by one of Antiques Roadshow's expert in August 2009 
(Screen shot, WGBH)

Details about Coles' life, particularly post-1940s, are scant. In her 60s, she married Cornelius F. Shaw, a widowed contractor with three grown children, and predeceased him in 1964. In the 50s, s
he donated six of her early interior design elevations to the Cooper Hewitt (read more at Dining Rooms to Diamonds). A glimpse of Coles' jewelry archive surfaced in summer of 2009, when a relative in San Diego presented a scrapbook and some of Coles' jewelry to Antiques Roadshow for appraisal, including a couple of the "safety pin" assemblages from the MoMA show. 

As for Gustav Manz's miniature of Shylock, one can only speculate whether Coles purchased it for a gift—
her stepbrother was a musical theater actor—or if it remained in her possession through two wars, the Great Depression, and the dawning of "atomic" jewelry. Its manufacture coincided with a revival of The Merchant of Venice at The New Amsterdam Theater in New York, two years after its London run. We imagine Cole having the reverse side engraved with Portia's advice to the Prince of Morocco (which he ignores, thus losing her hand): 'All that glisters is not gold...'

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shylock, 
in 1914 London production of The Merchant of Veniceover inscription "Sufferance is the hedge of all our tribe" 
(c) Victoria & Albert Museum

Our thanks to descendants of Elinor Evans Klapp and Ottavio Negri for opening family scrapbooks; to Kay O. Freeman for sharing insight and research on the artists; to Newark Museum and Jeannine Solensky at Winterthur for archival assistance, and to K. John Lor, former curator at Berkshire Museum, for permission to post the exhibition brochure and press clipping about Sutherland's and Coles' "Gem Portraits." 

Copyright © 2014 by Laura Mathews  
All Rights Reserved 

Updated 7/27/2015 

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    I am researching a match safe that may have been made by Manz. It is 18k and has an Egyptian motif. You may see it by looking at my, or if I had your email I can send it to you. On the bezel it has the name Theodore B. Starr.

    Thank you for any help.
    N. Shapiro