The Metal Arts Guild was founded in 1951 by a small group of artists working in the relatively new field of jewelry and metal arts. Many early members played a significant role in the “evolution of the American studio Jewelry movement and modernist American jewelry”. Margaret de Patta, merry renk, Francis Spensen, Byron Wilson, Vera Allison, Bob Winston, Irena Brynner, Peter and Virginia Macchiarini and Florence Resnikoff were among the first members. At that point MAG began sponsoring juried exhibitions and participating in shows put on by the San Francisco Art Commission, Bay Area museums and Fort Mason.
“MAG was established in 1951 to promote the metal arts and protect the economic interests of its members. Up until that time, there was no group or union in the United States that specifically addressed the unique needs of studio jewelers.
MAG’s founding members believed their collective association would create a network of strength and advantage by providing artistic, commercial, and education support to the membership. In doing so, the Guild had a large impact on the American studio jewelry movement as members taught at leading art institutions, participated in national and international exhibitions, and had their work acquired by museums and galleries…the legacy of MAG’s founding members still endures.”
– Jenna Shaifer, art historian, on Remembering MAG
Today the organization, which celebrated its 65th birthday in 2016, serves much the same function by providing support and resources to our members through social events, workshops, classes, exhibition opportunities, scholarships, grants, and lectures.
Florence Resnikoff (1920 – 2013)
Jeweler, sculptor and former Head of the Jewelry / Metal Arts Program at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, CA passed away April 2013.
Florence Resnikoff is recognized as being an early investigator of metalworking processes and techniques like anodizing and electroforming, which she utilized in her jewelry and sculptural designs. Resnikoff began exploring enameling by reading books on the topic while working as a registered medical technician in Chicago. In 1949 she took a one-week workshop at the summer school of the Chicago Art Institute where she was introduced to metalwork by Robert Von Neuman. It was at this time that Florence became interested in becoming a metalsmith.
In the early 1950s, she relocated to Palo Alto, California and had her first one-person show at the Art Gallery at Stanford University in 1956. In 1958, she had a second one-person show at the Art Room at the Chicago Public Library.
These two shows qualified her for the professional level status in the Metal Arts Guild (SF Bay Area), where she met Margaret De Patta, a jewelry designer whose modern approach to structure and materials guided Resnikoff’s jewelry-making investigations. Her interactions with the Metal Arts Guild helped her build her repertoire of techniques and materials in which she accented her gold and silver jewelry with colorful jewels and enamels.
In the early 1960’s, she returned to school to pursue a degree in sculpture, studying at the California College of Arts and Crafts (BFA in Sculpture, 1967) and San Jose State University (MA in Art, 1973). In 1968, Florence began to teach herself about electroforming and with her husband’s electronic knowledge, set up her first electoforming tank. She also taught herself about anodizing reactive metals and learned more about the subject after a trip to the Royal College of Art in London in 1978.
In 1973, an NEA grant allowed her to further her studies of electroforming with Stanley Lechtzin at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA. In 1973, she returned to CCAC as a teacher and later became a professor, serving as Head of the Metal Arts Program. While Program Head of Jewelry and Metal Arts at CCAC, Florence received an NEA Grant to bring leading craftsmen to CCAC for a series of one week advanced workshops during the summers of 1979 -1983. Artists that taught included June Schwartz, Helen Shirk, Harold O’Connor, Fred Fenster, Douglas Steakley, David La Plantz, Florence Resnikoff, Merry Lee Hu, Jamie Bennett and Edward De Large, among others.
Florence’s later work included both jewelry and liturgical commissions. Florence retired as Program Head of the Jewelry & Metal Arts Program at the California College of Arts & Crafts in 1989 and was designated a Professor Emerita in 1990 and the Florence Resnikoff Emerita Scholarship Fund was created at the California College of Arts at this time. Among her many honors and numerous exhibitions, Resnikoff was named a California Living Treasure in 1985. Her work in included in the permanent collections of the City and County of San Francisco, The California Art Collection of the Oakland Art Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and the Permanent Collection of the Museum of Arts and Design, NY. In 2012, an early sterling silver neck piece by Resnikoff was featured in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art show “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way”.
merry renk (1921 – 2012)
Founding MAG member and past President, and jeweler/artist, merry renk, passed on June 17, 2012. She was dear to our hearts, very active in the Guild all the way to the end, celebrating her 90th birthday with us during MAG’s 60th Anniversary year. She was our joyful Metal Mother and an inspiration to so many artists. merry will be deeply missed but surely never forgotten; she was a thorough documentarian of her career and she reached so many generations that the stories will flow freely for years to come. We are better people for having known you, merry. Peace.
An Oral history interview with Merry Renk from 2001 conducted by Arline Fisch for the Smithsonian Institute Archives of American Art is an excellent documentation of her life. In addition to the text, there is also a MP3 excerpt. Her two daughters Baunnie Sea and Sandee Curtis, grandson Ian Espinocilla, and two grandaughters – Elinor Espinocilla and Sabrina Settle, survive her.
Interview April 2012 by Emiko Oye Watch now
Focus on the Past: Founding Members merry renk & Florence Resnikoff, by Carolyn Tillie. Originally printed in the 60th Anniversary MAG Guildletter (Apr 2011).
Peter Macchiarini (1909 – 2001)
Peter Macchiarini jewelry is recognized for it’s contribution to the Modernist Jewelry Movement. He participated in the avant-garde jewelry movement in San Francisco, CA starting in the mid-20th century. He “studied ornamental work, marble carving, and drawing at the Art Academy at the Pietrasanta in Italy; later, he worked in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) with modernists such as sculptor, painter, and muralist Ralph Stackpole, and muralist Beniamino “Bene” Bufano.”12 “A member of MAG since its inception, Macchiarini knew there was a need for an organization to support the economic interests of metalsmiths.”
The location of his studio in North Beach was part of the cultural legacy of this unique area of San Francisco. Founded in the fall of 1948 and spanning 3 generations of Macchiarini, it is now the oldest continuous metal arts, modernist design studio, and gallery in the United States. Visit them in San Francisco where son Daniel and granddaughter Emma continue his legacy.
Macchiarini “blurred the lines drawn between sculptor and jeweler: his jewelry designs were experiments in layering techniques and studies of structure and form.”
In 2011, the jewelry of Peter Macchiarini and merry renk were featured in the exhibition, California Design1930-1965: “Living in the Modern Way” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Exhibition Oct. 1, 2011 to March 25, 2012 Catalog Show Book Co-Published by LAMCMA/MIT Press, 2011.
Irena Brynner (1917 – 2003)
Founding member of the Metal Arts Guild, Irena “Brynner, who apprenticed for jewelers Caroline Gleick Rosene and Franz Bergmann, is recognized for her innovative organically-shaped body jewelry forms and pioneering use of electronic welding.”
“Irena Brynner studied classical painting at the École Cantonale De Dessin et D’Art Applique (Cantonale School of Design and Applied Art) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Following her immigration to the United States, Brynner took sculpture courses under Ralph Stackpole at the California School of Labor in San Francisco. Brynner was influenced by many of the MAG founders, especially Margaret De Patta and Bob Winston.” 13
Jennifer Shaifer writes, “Irena Brynner, a painter by training, was largely interested by the aesthetic of modern jewelry. While her early jewelry pieces were dictated by her limited skill set and techniques; as she matured as an artist, she began to experiment with lost-wax casting and welding techniques that evolved into a new modern expression.”
“Although Brynner reached international acclaim early in her career, her biggest achievement is the contribution she made to the American studio jewelry movement. She was not the first to consider jewelry as miniature sculpture; however, Brynner made the body a functional component of her jewelry. In doing so, she redefined the meaning and aesthetic of modernist jewelry for a new generation of artists.”
In 1979, Brynner wrote “Jewelry As An Art Form,” a book that chronicled her early career and provided instruction on design and techniques.
Margaret de Patta (1903 – 1964)
A founding member of the Metal Arts Guild “De Patta, who studied under constructivist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, is considered by many as one of the icons of modernist jewelers; she was known for her use of light and line, and concern for structure in her designs.”
“Margaret De Patta, created a new visual language in the development of her jewelry designs though the interpretation of constructivist theory.”
Jennifer Shaifer writes in her thesis, “During the early 1940s, Margaret De Patta was one of the metalsmiths who benefited from her close connection with modernists Moholy-Nagy, György Kepes, Milton Halberstadt, and Eugene Bielawski after she took courses at Mills College and the School of Design in Chicago. This allowed De Patta to think beyond what had been jewelry’s traditional limitations.”
De Patta’s mature work “embodied modernist principles of constructivism, removed references to the past, used restraint in use of materials, and incorporated light, movement, and linear and abstract forms. De Patta began to collaborate with expert lapidary and metalsmith Francis Sperisen (also a founding MAG member) in designing gem cuts to achieve the optimal light effects she wanted in her designs.135 Sperisen’s most significant contribution to the evolution of De Patta’s design vision and the field of jewelry was the new development of unique stone cuts that captured various optical effects – which De Patta dubbed the “opti-cut.”138 No other lapidary or jeweler had ever developed these particular cuts before.”
Bob Winston (1915 – 2003)
“In 1942, pioneering metalsmith Bob Winston taught jewelry at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as the California College of Arts).23 Among his students were future MAG members Florence Resnikoff, Irena Brynner, and Robert Dhaemers — all of whom went on to teach jewelry themselves.”24
Byron Wilson (1918 – 1992)
A founding member of the Metal Arts Guild, Oakland native Byron Wilson’s work was an outstanding example of California Modernism. Mostly self-taught, he started making in the 1940’s, but by the 1950’s his work had made a lasting impact on the studio jewelry movement of the time. He was hired as a professor at the California College of Arts in 1956 where he taught for 25 years.
Vera Allison (1902 – 1993)
A founding member of the Metal Arts Guild, is best known as a painter and modernist jewelry designer.
All text in quotes and footnotes are cited from the master thesis by Jennfer Shaifer “Metal Rising: The Forming of the Metal Arts Guild, San Francisco (1929-1964).”
12 Peter Macchiarini also befriended painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo when they came San Francisco. Peter Macchiarini, interview by Mary Fuller McChesney, October 18, 1964, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.; Daniel Macchiarini, interview by author, San Francisco, CA, January 29, 2009.
13 Irena Brynner, interview by Arline M. Fisch.
24 Marbeth Schon, Form and Function: American Modernist Jewelry, 1940-1970, 198.
135 Francis Sperisen cut gemstones for several MAG members, including Merry Renk,
Irena Brynner, Peter Macchiarini, and Florence Resnikoff.
“Metal Rising: The Forming of the Metal Arts Guild, San Francisco (1929-1964).” Masters thesis, The Smithsonian Associates and Corcoran College of Art and Design, 2011.
In 2011, Jennifer Shaifer wrote her master thesis (The Smithsonian Associates and Corcoran College of Art and Design) about the Metal Arts Guild “Metal Rising: The Forming of the Metal Arts Guild, San Francisco (1929-1964).” This thesis documents the political, social and crafts movements that led to the development of the Metal Arts Guild and addressed under-researched scholarship pertaining to its significant role in the American studio jewelry movement.
To obtain a copy of her thesis contact Jennifer Schaifer: jshaifer [at] optonline.net
Jennifer Schaifer is a decorative arts historian and product developer in the accessory and fashion industries. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
The Metal Arts Guild Library offers a unique collection of books, and catalogs that document the mid 20th century jewelry movement and past MAG members.
Contact the Metal Arts Guild librarian to make an appointment. View a list of our unique library online.
The books below include work by founding members of the Bay Area Metal Arts Guild:
Messengers Of Modernism: American Studio Jewelry 1940-1960 by Toni Greenbaum, Toni Greenbaum, Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts, Flammarion Publishers, 1996
Modernist Jewelry 1930-1960: The Wearable Art Movement by Marbeth Schon,
Schiffer Publishers, 2004
Form & Function: American Modernist Jewelry 1940-1970 by Marbeth Schon. Schiffer Publishers, 2008
California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” by Wendy Kaplan. Exhibition catalogue available at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Co-Published by LAMCMA/MIT Press, 2011