L’École Returns to Inspire New Yorkers

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The knowledge fairy of L’École School of Jewelry Arts has been dazzling New York City with a special, memorable experience through a two and half weeks selection of courses, conversations, and exhibitions at the Academy Mansion, 2 East 63rd Street. The three exhibitions — “Daniel Brush: Cuffs and Necks,” “Through the Eyes of a Connoisseur,” and “The Fabulous Destiny of Tavernier’s Diamonds: From the Great Mogul to the Sun King” — are free to the public. 

Opened on February 14, 2012 in the Place Vendôme by Van Cleef and Arpels, L’École came to New York in 2015 from June 4th-18th to offer courses and conversations at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Aside from a brief appearance at the Noah’s Ark installation of Van Cleef and Arpels in 2017, this is L’École’s second residence in the city. Its arrival announced as early as June, the institution has been warmly received by both those familiar with and new to its mission of introducing the jewelry world to all. Students attested to how pleased they were to secure their place, for the courses quickly filled to capacity. One student traveled from California specifically to attend. The eight conversations were eagerly sought as well. Preceded by a reception, the conversations feature two or a few speakers discussing themes of the jewelry world and life at large, including “The Timeless Work of Daniel Brush: A Conversation” with the artist himself and Beth Wees, Ruth Bigelow Wriston Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and “Great Women Jewelers: Inspirational Minds” with the author Juliet Weir-de La Rochefoucauld, member of the Gemological Association of Great Britain, and Inezita Gay-Eckel, art historian and L’École instructor.

L’École offers over twenty courses at its main Paris location year-round and brings the classroom abroad on its nomadic outreach, thus far to Tokyo, Dubai, Hong Kong, and New York City. On this visit, there are fifteen courses, most of which have at least four sessions throughout the time period, and are categorized in savoir faire, art history, and gemology. The courses take about a year’s time to prepare the syllabus and range from a workshop on Japanese urushi lacquer—for which a living national treasure artist of Japan was consulted—to the history of amulets to a survey of diamonds. The creative workshop option is open to children. 

Here in New York, the staff graciously welcomes you and is available as a guide through the exhibitions. After being received in the foyer, the visitor encounters Daniel Brush in larger than life photograph at the entrance of the gallery space which highlights his “Necks” and “Cuffs,” along with other metalwork, three works of ink on paper, and a reading corner with publications on his extensive oeuvre. Those coming into the gallery range from long-time admirers to neophytes, and some have been lucky to have their visit coincide with Brush and his mutually devoted artist wife Olivia being present and amenable to conversation. Those who enjoy Brush’s work are drawn to his rigorous, meditative method and results. He makes manifest his ideas and innovations through solid materials and an attention for light with gold, aluminum, steel, and diamonds, all without an atelier of assistants. Two decades ago he remarked, “It is the folded and unfolded mosaic of complexity that has kept me pacing yet has always caused my productive movement.” There is a “cross-pollination with the seeds from art history, science and technology, Eastern and Western philosophical treatises, and the blushing chroma of one hundred carats of pink diamonds.”

The New York 2018 edition of the L’École-created series “Through the Eyes of a Connoisseur” features a selection loaned anonymously by a local collector specializing in art deco jewelry. Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Art and Design at the Cleveland Museum of Art and co-curator of the recent The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s, wrote the essay in the exhibition catalog, addressing the characteristics of collecting. In his words, “The one essential is a desire to remember – to assign a past experience of a current good feeling with an object chosen for its ability to evoke such memories.” The first case features rare Judaica, including a wedding ring from the 14th century, in a nod to the origin of the collector’s path. The remaining cases, arranged as if like jewels on a semi-circle necklace, display excellent crafting in diamonds, jade, sapphires, and other stones from known designers including Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier, and Suzanne Belperron.

The third exhibition features the results of a collaboration of art historians and scientists to understand further the life of Jean Baptiste Tavernier through research and the recreation of the twenty diamonds deemed “extraordinarily beautiful” out of the thousand and more he sold to Louis XIV. Tavernier made six round trips between Paris and Asia, which his monarch client required him to recollect in writing. With the assistance of Samuel Chappuzeau, he provided an account of the material and local culture as the first European to describe India’s diamond mines. A later edition set is on view, in part with a tablet version to scroll through, and the full collection can be found online. The replicas of cubic zirconia and resin took two years to complete and are based on a rendering by Abraham Bosse, as nineteen of the original twenty are lost to history. The only one traced through time is the recut blue diamond in the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute, commonly known as the Hope Diamond. Just as Tavernier bridged West and East, L’École’s “Destiny” project bridges the past and present. This display is placed in the library with seating area to explore the range of jewelry world tomes from books about specific maisons to time periods and regions, each with the ex libris of  L’École.

One completes the circuit at the home’s grand staircase, with a spotlight on L’École and a full view of the inner courtyard. Each exhibition has a complimentary catalogue, and the receptionist desk has for sale “Necks” and “Cuffs” as well as three of the L’École publications from the collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris – “Flora,” “Fauna,” and “Figures.” In addition to that museum, L’École has partnered with the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, the Ecole Boulle of Design in Paris, the University Rennes 2,  and the Kyoto University of Art and Design

The coordinated exhibitions stand testament to how something petite can be both pleasurable and profound. There is an intensive immersion with the taste to sample or fully engage as one contemplates the constancy and resonance of creativity through the ages. The townhouse mansion of 2 E. 63rd Street provides an elegant, residential setting to students and visitors. Created in 1920 as the home of Royal Baking Powder company owner William Ziegler Jr. who had a hand in composing the Italian palazzo based style with a bit of eclectic European aesthetic, the building also belonged to the Woolworth family who donated it to the New York Academy of Sciences. Now in private hands, the building is available for rent and private tours. As with institutions such as the Frick Collection, Neue Galerie, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and Cooper Hewitt, the Academy Mansion is an exceptional part of New York City’s early 20th century architecture and interior. Through discovering the world, there is the discovery and nurturing of the self. This venue of exploring the history and practice of crafting and enjoying jewelry and art is a perfect place for such an enterprise. 

L’École School of Jewelry Arts, supported by Van Cleef and Arpels features courses, conversations and exhibitions
2 East 63rd Street, New York, New York
October 25 to November 9, 2018
Exhibitions open free to the public daily, 10am-6pm

Further reading

L’Ecole main website:
https://www.lecolevancleefarpels.com/enhttps://www.lecolevancleefarpels.com/en 

“Welcome to L’ÉCOLE in NYC website dedicated to a two-week ephemeral program”
https://us.lecolevancleefarpels.com/

L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels in New York
https://www.cooperhewitt.org/events/lecole/

“Daniel Brush: Cuffs and Necks” exhibition catalog. Vivienne Becker. L’École School of Jewelry Arts.

“Daniel Brush: Gold without Boundaries.” Daniel Brush, Donald B. Kuspit, and Ralph Esmerian. Abrams, Inc. 1998

“Through the Eyes of a Connoisseur” exhibition catalog. Stephen Harrison and private collector. New York, Fall 2018 edition. L’École School of Jewelry Arts

“The Fabulous Destiny of Tavernier’s Diamonds: From the Great Mogul to the Sun King” exhibition catalog. Articles by François Farges; Cécile Lugand; Amina Okada; Guillaume Glorieux. L’École School of Jewelry Arts. 2018.

“This Fall, the French Maison Van Cleef & Arpels Plans to Give New Yorkers a Crash Course in the Finer Things”
https://news.artnet.com/art-world/van-cleef-arpels-lecole-new-york-1308926

“The Residence of William Ziegler, JR., 2 East 63rd Street, New York, NY”
http://halfpuddinghalfsauce.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-residence-of-william-ziegler-jr-2.html 

New York Adventure Club
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/private-tour-bubbly-academy-mansion-fifth-avenue-gilded-age-property-registration-48554134724#

About the author

Victoria Schmidt-Scheuber

Victoria Schmidt-Scheuber is an art historian, traveler, and writer. Following Phillips Exeter Academy, she graduated with her B.A. in art history and politics from Mount Holyoke College, where she worked at the campus museum as Education Fellow and curatorial intern. At Columbia University, she acted-produced with the Barnard Columbia Ancient Drama Group and excavated at Hadrian’s Villa with the Advanced Program of Ancient History and Art while earning her M.A. in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. Based in New York City, Victoria enjoys exploring the range of human creativity and cultural development.

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