Featured Member

Each month a new Featured Member is chosen from the completed member profiles on our website. Their interview and work is highlighted on our blog and social media. Visit our archive of past Featured Members.

September 2021






  • Irene Brynner
  • Irena Brynner
  • Irene Brynner
  • Irene Brynner
  • Irene Brynner
  • Irene Brynner
  • Irene Brynner
  • Irene Brynner


To start our celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Metal Arts Guild, we want to highlight the background of a few of its founding members

Irena Brynner

Irena Brynner, played significant role in American Jewelry Design and saw jewelry as an opportunity to make ‘wearable sculpture’. “Frequently, her work features unique or surprising combinations of mineral specimens, specially cut or polished semi-precious stones, and found objects, such as tree bark or fragments of ethnographic artefact. Her works are also highlighted by unusual treatments of clasps and closures, and she developed her own unique type of earrings with sinuous shapes that caress and embrace the shape of the ear itself”. [Source: Cooper Hewitt]

“Irene was raised on a Russian naval base in Manchuria with her cousin, the actor Yul Brynner. After studying art in Switzerland she returned to Asia, where she learned from Chinese painters.  She moved to the United States in 1946, and continued her sculpture studies in San Francisco. She has lived and worked in New York since 1957.In 1946 she and her mother left China after her father was accused of being a spy. She made jewelry to earn a living, but new friendships with West Coast studio jewelers Merry Renk and Margaret De Patta encouraged her to think of jewelry as an art form. A trip to New York introduced her to art nouveau architecture, which greatly inspired her work. Brynner was also an accomplished mezzo-soprano and spent the later part of her career in New York City”. [Source: Smithsonian Institution]

Following are excerpts from two interviews taped in 1982, as published by Metalsmith Magazine. 

“In San Francisco, there was an open-air art show every year, subsidized by the city. It was open to all craftsmen. Through this show, I started to have contacts with different jewelers. I met Merry Renk and Margaret DePatta, who was a leading force in the metal community. There was also Byron Wilson and an Italian jeweler, Peter Maccarini. We became concerned about the quality of work at those open-air art shows and started thinking about forming an organization to promote professional standards and metalsmithing education. In this way the Metal Arts Guild was founded with a small group of about eight to 10 people. By 1951 we had started to hold serious meetings and make up by-laws. This group was marvelous because of the guidance of Margaret DePatta. Her husband, Eugene Bielawski, was also a metalsmith, and they both were trained in Bauhaus methods at Moholy-Nagy’s School of Design in Chicago. It was they who guided us in all our efforts. However, our discussions were lively, as we did not always agree on the purpose of jewelrymaking [Source: Ganoksin]



  • Profile photo: Courtesy Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Irena Brynner, Brooch, 1969, 18k gold and Egyptian faience, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1999.52
  • Earrings, gold with pearls, 1957,  ; Ganoksin
  • Choker Chain, 1964, cast gold ; Ganoksin
  • Ring, 14k Gold, baroque cultured pearl, 1950; Rago
  • Broooch Gold & Pearl Bird, Rago
  • Necklace, Gold, Niobium 1991; Cooper Hewitt
  • Necklace, Gold, Stone, Diamonds; Cooper Hewitt



 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution:  https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/brooch-38450

Ganoksin: Master Metalsmith, Irena Brynner  https://www.ganoksin.com/article/master-metalsmith-irena-brynner/

Rago: https://www.ragoarts.com/auctions/2020/02/structure-ornament-studio-jewelry-1900-to-the-present-curated-by-mark-mcdonald/150


Cooper Hewitt