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.*
A.H. Barney residence NY, 1882
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 their studio on Bleecker Street going, running advertisements in Vanity Fair (under her married name) for customized purse clasps that coordinated with her hand-made jewelry. After America entered the first world war, Vedder's career took an unexpected turn. Hearing of the challenges facing amputees and shell-shocked American soldiers sent home from the battlefields in France, she established 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 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 for customers seeking a touch of global chic.
then in her late 40s
During her marriage to Enoch, Vedder lived at 50 East 29th Street, just one block north of Gustav Manz's jewelry studio at 37 East 28th. Combining the roles of manufacturing jeweler and metal craftsman, Manz exhibited his sculpture and jewelry at the National Arts Club, the Metropolitan Museum's annual industrial arts exhibition, and other venues for fine handicraft. Like Vedder and others creating custom accessories for the well-heeled, he borrowed palettes and motifs from the Far East for his high-end customers, such as a series of gold and enamel brooches and pendants featuring apple-colored colored jades cut in circular and marquise shapes for Tiffany & Company.
No designs attributed to Vedder or part of her private jewelry collection (even the mysteriously passed-over opals) appear to have surfaced at jewelry auctions 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. Though the tearoom and cottage 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.
* For more on the theft of the Vedders' jewels see "Artistic Thieves Rob the Vedders: Rare Discrimination Shown by Men Who Devastate the Home of Antique Workers" (New York Times, July 6, 1910) and "On the Trail of Thieves with Art Training: Rare Objects Stolen from E.R. Vedder a Year Ago Appear Here in Pawnshop" (New York Times, July 25, 1911).