This weekend we made a quick pilgrimage to Ogunquit, Maine hoping to find traces of Angela Vedder, a self-taught jeweler and gem collector who lived there during the 1920s and whose father-in-law, Elihu Vedder, was one of the early members of the art colony.
The Craftsman, January 1916
The Times picked up on the inference—that opals had a reputation in certain immigrant communities for bringing bad luck, so might be difficult to fence—and concluded jingoistically that "American burglars are usually of stiffer mold." Enoch managed to recover some of the stolen articles, tracing them to local pawn shops.*
Cooper Hewitt Museum
Following Enoch's death in 1916 (from a fever he contracted while convalescing from a "nervous collapse" at his parents' home in Italy), Angela kept the Vedder studio on Bleecker Street going, running advertisements in Vanity Fair (under her married name, "Mrs. Enoch R. Vedder") for her color-coordinated purse clasps and hand-made jewelry. After America entered WWI, her career took an unexpected turn. Hearing of the challenges facing amputees and shell-shocked American soldiers sent home from the battlefields in France, she founded and taught the first "occupational therapy" jewelry classes for injured veterans at Walter Reed Army Hospital (midcentury silversmith Margaret Craver filled a similar role during WWII).
In 1924, having resumed her career as "Society's 'Personality Jeweler'" Vedder shared her Walter Reed experience with Mary Small, a reporter for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: "You know, a good many of the boys—the ones that had lost arms or hands or legs—didn't much care what became of them. They thought nobody wanted them around because they were crippled. So they didn't make the slightest effort towards getting well. The doctors and nurses didn't know what to do with them. They couldn't be stirred out of their despondency. Then I came along with my jewelry—with its message of love and beauty and humanity—and almost at once things began to change... It was something to make you want to be ten people, to make a hundred more boys see things rationally. And a the same time it was fitting some of them for good jobs later on."
Jewelers' Circular, April 19, 1919
Over the next decade Vedder traveled to Havana, the UK, Scandinavia, and the European continent, returning to Ogunquit each summer with fresh treasures to share with customers who visited her 18th-century rose-trellised cottage on Oar Weed Lane, overlooking Perkins Cove. Her shop, adjacent to a popular tearoom called the Whistling Oyster, offered hand-made jewelry, carved jade and Chinese enamels, antique caskets and other objets appealing to those in search of global chic.
None of Vedder's own jewelry (even the mysteriously passed-over opals) has surfaced or been identified in sales or exhibits. But her conviction that craftwork can be restorative for both maker and collector certainly lives on—as we learned on our stroll through Perkins Cove. The tearoom and building that housed Vedder's gallery were lost to fire in the 1970s, shops featuring local artisans (including one named for the original Whistling Oyster) now crowd Oar Weed Lane like wildflowers sown by the town's original bohemians.
Postscript: During her marriage to Enoch, Vedder lived in Kips Bay, at 50 East 29th, not far from Gustav Manz's jewelry studio on East 28th Street. His work may have been known to her from his participation in craft exhibits at the National Arts Club and other venues. Though he fabricated stock items for his retail customers, like other art jewelers of that time, he often used semiprecious stones in his own designs. Below, a production sketch pasted into one of Manz's costbooks for an 18kt gold and enamel brooch set with jade cut into discs and marquise shapes (sold to Tiffany & Company circa 1923)
Thanks to Jane Shapleigh Edgecomb, administrator at the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit, for information about the art colony, and to the University of Wisconsin Digital Library of the Decorative Arts and Material Culture for image from The Craftsman
Copyright © Laura Mathews
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