Thursday, November 29, 2012

SCARAB FEVER


Sphinx head incorporating a piece of ancient glass, design modeled in wax and cast in gold by Gustav Manz for F. Walter Lawrence
Image courtesy Town & Country, December 12, 1903

In late spring 1904, Jewelers' Circular reviewed an exhibition organized by the Handicraft League of Cincinnati and held at the city's Woman's Club, leading with a case with almost 50 pieces belonging to "Gustav Manz, New York" including "fine examples of the old Egyptian outline":

"The rings in the collection were immense and the settings of gems in etruscan gold, as well as the large brooches of lapis lazuli, Cyprian glass sphynx (sic) head, in the styles of over 2,000 years ago, made a decidedly beautiful and instructive collection..." (1)


This necklace pendant with scarab and pyramid-shaped drop, designed and manufactured by Gustav Manz, was featured at the eighth Industrial Arts Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art 
Cover image from The Jewelers' Circular, January 30, 1924 

Earlier that spring Manz's historical and nouveau inspired gold-work, including a sphinx head scarf pin fashioned around a piece of ancient glass, filled the case of jeweler F. Walter Lawrence's display at the World's Fair in St. Louis. Manz's work appeared in articles Lawrence wrote for The Craftsman (2) and Town & Country (3). While neither magazine credited Manz as the artist, forms submitted to the jury selecting jewelry for the St. Louis expo reveal that most of the pieces in Lawrence's traveling collection were hand-wrought or modeled and cast by Manz. And Lawrence's firm, along with many others, would carry Manz's jewelry designs in antique and modern styles for the next four decades. 


Manz's workshop produced this ring carved with stylized Egyptian lotus and set with green tourmaline for Tiffany & Co, 1922 (Manz archive, Winterthur Museum); below: Manz gouache design for a gem-set pendant with carved urei and Egyptian figure wearing headdress (Mathews Family Collection)

                         

By 1912, after partnering with fellow manufacturing jeweler Walter P. McTeigue for a few years, Manz was established in his own studio-factory on East 28th Street, at the edge of the Flatiron District. In March of that year, he registered copyright on one of his Egyptian designs: a sculpted panel, or plaque, depicting "Two columns, carved with figure of Isis and Osiris, supporting plate above panel of pyramids, sphinx and two lions nearby, in bas-relief." 

                   
      Gouache rendering for Egyptian temple mount for a scarab by Gustav Manz 
                                       Mathews Family Collection

As the jewelry industry recovered from World War I, and the 1920s roared in, orders for Manz's patriotic themed subsided and demand for his Egyptian, animal, and "oriental" novelties increased. Around this time Manz's younger daughter became her father's traveling sales representative and in-house advisor on rapidly evolving post-war fashions for women. His long record of supplying fine carved mountings for Tiffany & Company paid off when he was invited to participate in one of the Metropolitan Museum's series of industrial art exhibits organized by the museum's forward-thinking decorative arts curator Richard Bach. 

The Jewelers' Circular's fashion correspondent Isabelle M. Archer effused over "splendid examples of commercial jewelry [from] the houses of Mehrlust, Manz, and Cartier..."(4) on view at the eighth annual show. One of the most admired pieces in Manz's case was a pendant depicting a king of the Nile flanked by seated attendants; it appeared on the cover of Jewelers' Circular's issue containing the first of Archer's reviews of the 1924 show. The piece incorporated a pastiche of symbols derived from Manz's earlier studies of archaeological holdings at the Cairo Museum as well as objects from more recent excavations underwritten by the museum such as the opening of King Tutankhamun's tomb. 


Detail from brochure for Metropolitan Museum of Art Eighth Exhibition of Industrial Art, 1924; inset: the Met decorative art galleries, circa 1920s
Accessed via Thomas Watson Library, MMA

At the conclusion of her review, Archer pivoted from the angular sapphire, diamond and onyx jewels in the Cartier group to Manz's latest reboot of traditional motifs that were, in her words, "very distinctly the Oriental type." The array of jade, pearls, pink beryls, and other gemstones set in lattice made for "a most remarkable color scheme."(5) Cartier's geometric mounts and Manz's chinoiserie broke away from art nouveau fantasy and Edwardian garlands and toward the sleeker, stylized forms and brilliant colors embraced by the flapper generation and designers of the art deco era. 

Manz's work rarely qualified as trendy, however. To the end of his career he maintained a craftsman's allegiance to hand-wrought, custom work, generally eschewing deco's glossy, machine-age contours. Through all the change he witnessed in over his five decades in America—political, social, industrial—his favorite periods and motifs hardly changed. As Fitzgerald writes at the end of The Great Gatsby, his 1925 flapper novel: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."


From Near to Far East: This gold, jade, and enamel Buddha pendant passed down to a descendant by Manz's daughter may have featured in his display case at the Metropolitan Museum Industrial Art show in 1924
Private collection


Notes
(1) "Beautiful Art Work at the Recent Exhibition of the Handicraft League of Cincinnati." The Jewelers' Circular-Weekly, Vol. 53, No. 20 (1904): 14  
(2) Lawrence, F. Walter. "Craftsmanship versus Intrinsic Value." The Craftsman 4:3 (1903): 181-185 (illustrated)
(3) Lawrence, F. Walter. "Symbolism and Jewelry." Town & Country (December 12, 1903): 34-35
(4) Archer, Isabelle M., "When Art Meets Industry: Modern Decorative Design As Shown at The Metropolitan Museum." Archer, Isabelle M. The Jewelers' Circular, Vol. 88 (February 6, 1924): 275. Jacob Mehrlust was the third manufacturer, along with Cartier and Gustav Manz, who received special mention in Archer's review.
(5) Archer, Isabelle M., "The Present Trend in Decorative Designing, Traced Through the Industrial Exhibition Now at the Metropolitan Museum," Jewelers' Circular Vol. 88 (January 30, 1924): 53-55

We would like to thank Courtney Bowers Marhev, author of the first scholarly study of Gustav Manz's work, Where Credit Is Due (Smithsonian, 2008); Janet Zapata for identifying Manz's relationship with F. Walter Lawrence in an article for Magazine Antiques (April 2004); the Thomas J. Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum for digital access to The Jewelers' Circular, Industrial Art exhibition catalogs, and its research librarians' help locating correspondence between Doris Manz Eastman and Francis Henry Taylor regarding her father's designs based on artifacts in the museum's collection; and to Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library as the repository for the Gustav Manz Papers.


Post updated October 21, 2016

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