In 1940, renowned Bauhaus weaver Anni Albers and student Alex Reed created a collection of jewelry from basic household items. They sourced materials from hardware stores and five-and-dime shops such as paper clips, bobby pins, erasers, wine corks, metal sieves, washers, and nuts. By utilizing these objects decoratively and formally, Albers and Reed created a collection of anti-luxury jewelry that proposed a new definition of value.
Albers and Reed first met at Black Mountain College, the legendary experimental art school located in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. The school offered a progressive liberal arts education that fueled the American avant-garde from 1933-1956. Collaborations between teachers, students, and visiting artists were encouraged and, accordingly, Albers and Reed worked and traveled together.
It was during their trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, that they encountered the pre-Columbian jewelry of Monte Albán. The thousand-year-old jewelry was composed of unusual material combinations of precious and non-precious elements—pearls and seashells, rock crystals and gold. To Albers and Reed, this jewelry offered an insight into the wisdom of material value.
Albers and Reed’s collection was born from this logic. They were able to approach material as elemental form, dissociated from its prior purpose. Later associations of industrial hardware as ornament can be found in the punk fashions of the 1970s and ’80s. But rather than seeking to subvert the status quo, the jewelry designs of Albers and Reed had their humble beginnings in the relics of Monte Albán—creating a collection that affirmed ancient aesthetics through forward-focused practicality.
Images: © 2013 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society, New York.