Thursday, August 28, 2014


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. 

Art Colony, Perkins Cove, Ogunquit Maine, circa 1930s 
Boston Public Library

With husband Enoch Rosecrans Vedder, Angela designed clasps for brocade purses and carved wooden chests that married well with the hand-wrought jewelry the couple exhibited at Chicago Art Institute shows and other venues. The Craftsman noted that Mrs. Vedder not only executed her designs but forged her own tools.

Handbags and other accessories by Angela Vedder 
The Craftsman, January 1916

Enoch's main profession was designing villas for expats like his parents, who owned a compound on the Isle of Capri. The younger Vedders' city residence was a Manhattan penthouse in the East 20s, where they kept a collection of historical jewelry picked up from trips abroad. After burglars fleeced the apartment during a daylight robbery in 1910, The New York Times reported: "There is only one clue to the identity of the robbers. Two of the most valuable necklaces in Mrs. Vedder's collection were not taken. At first Mrs. Vedder could not understand this. Later an idea came to her. These were the only jewels in her collection which contained opals. The burglars were superstitious, she thinks." 

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.* 

Elihu Vedder design for mermaid window (detail), 
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." 

Vedder, at left, teaching soldiers at Walter Reed hospital 
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.

1923 passport photo of Angela Vedder, 
then in her late 40s
National Archives

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.

In the 1920s leisure-class American women were infatuated by mahjong and fashions inspired by Chinese dress; this carved jade and enamel "broche" created in Gustav Manz's studio for Tiffany & Company answered the call

In fall of 1931, Vedder's annual pilgrimage to Europe ended tragically when she contracted a severe case of chicken pox. She died at the hospital in Marseille on October 13, two weeks shy of her 55th birthday. Her remains were interred at Saint-Pierre Cemetery. Survivors included her younger sister, Clara Reston Myron, a summer resident of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, and three nephews.

From Lost York County by Steven A. Burr, The History Press, Copyright 2009

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. 

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.

* 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). 

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