Alice Fischer’s Ceramic Jewelry and Buttons
Fischer’s writings about her jewelry indicate the difficulty of classifying her work and suggest a conflicted relationship to the craft world. She repeatedly acknowledged that the jewelry was successful, even to the point of being copied.
The October 1, 1945 cover of Vogue features a made-to-order hyacinth-gray dinner ensemble designed for the fashionable New York store, Henri Bendel. The jacket features four large ceramic buttons, and Alice Fischer, on her copy of the magazine, made a brief note: “My ceramic buttons.” The editors at Vogue did not include her name in the description of the outfit and knowledge of this prominent appearance of her artistry might have been lost except for the diligence of the executors of her estate in preserving the scrawled upon cover. Alice Fischer was a modest person and worked in a vein of craft easily overlooked by scholars and historians. She considered her work as a designer and maker of ceramic buttons and jewelry in the 1940s and 1950s a business and pursued retail contacts rather than museum recognition. Too small to receive widespread commercial press and too practical to garner much attention from art critics, many details of her work are recorded only in personal, informal writings. Half a century later, these notes, combined with brief mentions in period newspapers, reveal the story of Fischer’s career as a craftswoman of mid-century modernist ceramic jewelry and document a life shaped by the pressures of war and displacement.
Alice Fischer was born in Vienna to a Jewish family in 1907, and lived in Holland as a refugee during World War I. She studied in Vienna at the renowned School of Applied Arts of the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry with Josef Hoffmann, one of the founders of the Wiener Werkstätte. While she later claimed that her primary lesson from the school was “independence,” she must have taken to heart Hoffmann’s ideas of democratizing good design, elevating the status of craft and looking to peasant and traditional arts for inspiration.
Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar in Athens, Georgia, and the former curator of decorative arts at the Georgia Museum of Art. She enjoyed working with Alice Fischer’s friends and former students, Pat Courtney, Patrick Mizelle and Brenda Poss, who have done so much to preserve the memory of her fascinating life. Callahan believes that the relatively brief period during which Fischer created her ceramic jewelry and button designs offers an interesting window into the production of mid-century studio jewelry, and is pleased to have the opportunity to help document this little-known artist’s work.
This article in its entirety appears only in the print magazine.
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