AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID TAYLOR
Curator of the exhibition
GEORG JENSEN JEWELRY
JULY 14 - OCTOBER 16, 2005
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.
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 catalogue. 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.
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 catalogue, which involves writing text, communicating with contributing authors, photographers, translators, and other persons involved with the editorial process.
7.You also edited a book called GEORG JENSEN JEWELRY. Is it simply a catalogue that accompanies the exhibit?
In my view, it is much more than a catalogue 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 catalogue 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.
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.
Last Updated: 4/4/06
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