Honorable Jewel Divo Alert: Art Smith the First African American Jewelry Designer

Arthur SmithArthur Smith was born in Cuba to Jamaican parents in 1917.  In 1920, his family settled in Brooklyn, NY, where he honed his artistic talents.  He was awarded a scholarship to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.  Due to his artistic ability, his advisors tried to steer him towards Architecture, but his lack of proclivity for mathematics forced him to switch to commercial art and a major in sculpture.

Mr. Smith earned his degree in 1940, and instantly began taking jewelry making classes at NYU.  He would take classes at night and work for Winifred Mason, an up and coming jewelry designer from Haiti.  It was here that he learned how to transform metal and copper into such artistic pieces that women from NY to LA would love to wear.  arthursmith3

In 1946, he opened his first shop on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village.  Soon after he relocated to 140 West Fourth and that move was his best move.  Not only was he selling his pieces from his own store front; he was selling to boutiques in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.  His biggest clients however, were Bloomingdales and Milton Heffing in Manhattan.

Mr. Smith was experiencing huge success.  By the 1950’s, his unique jewelry pieces were featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and The New Yorker.  In the New Yorker he was mentioned in their shoppers guide “On The Avenue.”  After that feature he ran a small add in The New Yorker for several years.  These advertisement and press coverage gave him prestige amongst notable actors, singers and dancers.

arthursmith2In 1960, his notoriety had flourished.  He began using silver more in his growing collection.  But one of his biggest achievements was designing a brooch for Eleanor Roosevelt and designing cuff links for Duke Ellington that included notes from Ellington’s 1930 song “Mood Indigo.”

In 1969, he was recognized with an exhibition at the New York museum of Art and Design (then Museum of Contemporary Crafts).  Art Smith closed his shop in 1979, and died of heart failure in 1982.

His artistic style can still be seen in jewelry today.  His love for shapes and patterns truly showed through his unique jewelry.

Thank you Art Smith for your artistic contribution to the jewelry industry.

Thank you to Art Smith estate for his detailed biography.  If you would like to learn more visit Art Smith!

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