AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID TAYLOR
Curator of the exhibition
GEORG JENSEN JEWELRY
1. Are you a full time Georg Jensen expert? If not what do you do fulltime?
The research and writing I do on Georg Jensen and other designers is done in
my spare time. My full-time job is as a senior folklorist at the American Folklife Center, which is in the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. My training in cultural anthropology and folklore, and the extensive scholarly research I have done in the areas of material cultural, craftsmanship and design over the past thirty years shaped my approach to the study of Georg Jensen jewelry.
2. How and when did you first become interested in Georg Jensen? Do you collect it?
My interest in Georg Jensen silver was sparked many years ago when I saw pieces of Georg Jensen jewelry for the first time. It was in New York City, and the pieces were in a display case in a prominent store. I had never seen anything like Jensen jewelry before, and I remember being especially struck by the pleasing forms of the pieces and the use of botanical motifs and colorful cabochon-cut stones. A few months later, I spotted a small Georg Jensen shop at London's Heathrow airport and picked out a small brooch to bring home to my wife. That was the first piece I acquired.
After that, my interest in Georg Jensen silver grew. I wanted to know more about it, including who designed it, who made it, and what other pieces were produced. Since I am a scholar, I set out to answer these and other questions by reading books and articles about Georg Jensen and Danish decorative art, examining pieces of Jensen silver at antique shows and antique shops, and talking to knowledgeable people. As a matter of fact, the first antique dealer I met who specializes in Georg Jensen silver is a certain Soren Jensen!
Over the course of time, I built up quite a respectable collection of books and other reference materials, including full runs of the most important Danish journals concerned with the decorative arts, and it has been an invaluable resource for me in my writing.
I couple of years ago, I put my knowledge of Jensen silver to use when I wrote (with Jason Laskey) a big book titled Georg Jensen Holloware, that was published by The Silver Fund, the prominent dealer in Jensen silver that is based in London.
Yes, I do collect Jensen silver; mainly jewelry. Like most collectors, I enjoy the hunt and the opportunities it creates to talk with others who also appreciate Jensen silver. And my wife enjoys wearing the pieces I find.
3. How did you first get the idea for a Georg Jensen jewelry exhibit or did the Bard Graduate Center first approach you? Why did the Bard Center do an exhibition now?
I've been interested in taking an in-depth look at Georg Jensen jewelry for a long time, but the idea of doing a major exhibition came from Michael James, the director of The Silver Fund. He approached the director of the Bard Graduate Center, who was enthusiastic about the idea, and I was subsequently invited to be the curator of the exhibition and the editor of its catalog. I think the timing of the exhibition was prompted by the fact that the Georg Jensen Company had just celebrated its centennial and the idea of a retrospective exhibition seemed highly appropriate. Another factor was that The Silver Fund could provide important pieces from its collection as well as introductions to major collectors of Jensen jewelry whose collections they had helped build.
4. Georg Jensen opened his first shop in 1904. The company is still thriving over 100 years later. How does a jewelry company survive that long through so many fashion and design changes in the world culture?
The fact that the Jensen company has persevered for more than a century is a remarkable accomplishment. I can think of only two jewelry-manufacturing firms of international standing that have been in business longer: Tiffany and Cartier.
Virtually every firm that deals in products that are expressions of fashion must be able to either anticipate changes in taste or quickly respond to them when they occur. The Jensen company has been consistently successful in this regard, especially with its jewelry. For example, during the silversmithy's first year, Georg Jensen's designed in the naturalistic Skonvirke style. These designs were executed in silver and embellished with semi-precious stones. These pieces resonated perfectly with the preferences of Danish women at the time who were of the increasingly prosperous middle class and were looking for affordable jewelry with a fresh look that didn't harken back to the styles of earlier times. As time went on and tastes inevitably changed, the Jensen company responded by introducing new jewelry designs that were created by a succession of designers who were brought into the firm. This, along with the maintenance of high standards of craftsmanship, is what allowed the firm to stay abreast of changes in fashion and, in some instances, lead those changes.
When one looks at Georg Jensen jewelry over time, as we have endeavored to do with the exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center, it becomes readily apparent that what has been produced over the course of more than one hundred years is a virtual index of the major styles of the period covered.
I would also point out that a key ingredient in the firm's ability to nimbly respond to changes in fashion has been its skill in spotting such powerhouse designers as Henning Koppel, Nanna Ditzel, Bent Gabrielsen, and Viviana Torun Bulow-Hube, and nurturing their skills.
6. How do you begin to organize a museum exhibit and what were the steps to making it happen?
In most cases, the organization of an exhibition begins with a concept that describes the proposed scope, content, and duration of the exhibition. Then a detailed plan of action is developed that carefully specifies what needs to be accomplished, when and by whom the work will be done, and what funds and other resources will be required. Subsequent steps include: locating objects that will be included in the exhibition and working out loan agreements with museums and individuals who own them, keeping a careful record of the loaned objects and arranging for their insurance and transportation, designing the exhibition, fabricating the exhibition, and publicizing the project. Parallel to all this work is the development of the catalog, which involves writing text, communicating with contributing authors, photographers, translators, and other persons involved with the editorial process.
Organizing exhibitions such as Georg Jensen Jewelry is complicated and depends on the smooth coordination of a team of professionals who have a variety of responsibilities. I was very fortunate in that I worked with an extremely capable and convivial group of people at Bard who have a great deal of experience with exhibitions that focus on the decorative arts.
7.You also edited a book called GEORG JENSEN JEWELRY. Is it simply a catalog that accompanies the exhibit?
In my view, it is much more than a catalog that describes what is in the exhibition. Because it contains a great deal of information that will continue to be useful long after the exhibition has ended, it also functions as a stand-alone publication. For example, it contains five scholarly essays that discuss Georg Jensen jewelry in depth and place it in social and historical contexts, a detailed section on marks and construction details that can be used to date pieces of jewelry and identify other things about them, and a bibliography that will aid other scholars. In addition, the scores of beautiful color photographs in the book will serve as an important visual record of the jewelry that illustrates such things as the contributions and styles of individual designers, and the changes in design that have occurred over time. As well, I think it is safe to say that the catalog documents the largest and most important collection of Georg Jensen jewelry that has ever been assembled at one time.
8. How did you know the pieces you wanted?
My main goals in selecting pieces of Jensen jewelry were to show: pieces that reflect the way designs changed over time within the company, pieces that represent the work of the most important designers, pieces that have great historical significance, and pieces that are particularly rare. With these goals in mind, I looked at many pieces of Jensen jewelry and then made selections. Sometimes making choices was difficult because so many wonderful pieces have been created by the company over the years. But, since only so many pieces could be included in the exhibition, it was necessary to not include many.
In addition to the pieces of Jensen jewelry, there are other kinds of items in the exhibitions as well. For example, there are: original design drawings of jewelry, examples of sculpture and ceramics made by Georg Jensen before he established his silversmithy, and examples of jewelry in the Skonvirke style that were made by Jensen's contemporaries.
10. Did you make many trips to Denmark for research?
I made three trips to Denmark for this project.
11. What were your primary sources for information?
Among my primary sources of information were books and articles about Georg Jensen, the Jensen company, the designers who have worked for the Jensen company over the years, and Danish decorative arts in general. Another important source of information were interviews I did with members of Georg Jensen's family, some of the Jensen designers, key officials at the Jensen company and two goldsmiths at the company. As well, discussions with museum curators in Denmark were very helpful. Finally, I learned a great deal from closely examining many, many pieces of Georg Jensen jewelry.
12. What was the toughest part of creating the exhibition?
There was a lot to be done in a limited amount of time, that's for sure. And, given the very large number of excellent pieces of jewelry the Jensen company has created over the course of the past 100 years, it was challenging to make decisions about which ones to include in the exhibition.
13. What was the most interesting part in putting together the show?
There were many things about the project that were interesting, including: meeting members of Georg Jensen's family, meeting Jensen designers such as Nanna Ditzel and Bent Gabrielsen, getting to know museum curators and other scholars of Danish decorative arts, visiting the goldsmiths' workshop at the Jensen company, examining original design drawings at the Jensen company's archive, and being able to assemble pieces of jewelry that were part of important exhibitions that helped launch the Jensen company's success.
14. What are you most proud of in the exhibition?
Putting things in context. The exhibition is not merely about showing a large number of lovely pieces of jewelry. It's also about how they relate to Georg Jensen's life, how they're made, how they relate to the work of others, how they relate to their times, and how they reflect the creativity and skills of designers and craftspeople.
An email interview conducted with Alice Kossoff in Summer, 2005.
Buy a copy of
GEORG JENSEN JEWELRY
edited by David Taylor
(Published in Association with the
Bard Graduate Center )