Soaring to glittering new heights

Open roads have taken Elyse Zorn Karlin to some interesting places.

Not only has her work kept the Port Chester-based jewelry historian, author, lecturer and curator traveling the country, but more recently, it’s also taken her into space and perhaps soon, onto the silver screen.

Since we last visited Karlin – she was part of the December issue’s “Bedazzled” lineup – she’s barely had time to catch her breath.

Then, she was fresh off an exhibition she had curated for the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron, Ohio, and had just put together another successful annual conference of the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts, held at a private club in Manhattan.

You may recall that she, along with Yvonne Markowitz of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, founded and continue to run the ASJRA. In addition to events, the organization publishes Adornment, the Magazine of Jewelry and Related Arts (which, Karlin shares, is in the midst of a transition to a digital format that is really affecting its breadth of coverage).

Most of the winter was devoted to her latest exhibition, “Out of this World! Jewelry in the Space Age” at The Forbes Galleries in Manhattan, which opened with a glittering evening of space-themed festivities in March.

It’s a show that delves into the fascination people have long had with the skies, the moon, the stars and yes, traveling into space.

During a catching-up at a Rye Brook coffee shop on a recent afternoon Karlin shares there were a few doubters.

“A lot of people said to me they couldn’t figure out how I was going to make it all work when they heard what it was going to be,” she says.

She not only did it but did it with flair, once again drawing on her very philosophy to present an insightful and entertaining exhibition.

“It’s how I view jewelry in general,” she says. “You never study jewelry in a vacuum. … Jewelry’s always connected to what’s going on.”

Indeed, she says jewelry reflects and develops in relation to current events and contemporary tastes, cultural influences and economic times. It all comes together at Forbes.

The exhibition starts off with a teaser in the lobby, a case devoted to space ephemera that sums up how pervasive the “race to get into space” was in mid-20th century America.

It’s great retro-themed fun to look at items ranging from a 1949 Atom Ray Gun toy to 1950s Valentines (“I’m in orbit over you!”) to a 1970s toy depicting Goofy the Astronaut in a space capsule.

The exhibition really takes off inside the gallery, with a walk through space-themed history, from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras (“I don’t think anyone expected it to go back that far,” Karlin notes) right through to contemporary times.

By nature, jewelry exhibitions tend to be small in scale. But here, with nearly 20 cases filled with an array of pieces, it’s incredibly well-rounded and seems vast in scope.

“I could have put another hundred pieces in easily,” Karlin says.

Highlights are countless, from the actual jewelry to the endless ephemera, such as 1930s sheet music for “Me and the Man in the Moon,” to Flash Gordon imagery to a limited-edition print of Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

The jewelry itself is stunning, from the whimsical 1930s Bakelite-and-rhinestone brooch depicting Pierrot swinging under a smiling moon to the utterly dramatic showpiece, the “Tampa” necklace. This Van Cleef & Arpels 2010 creation depicts a rocket launch into space and is a burst of artistry, inspired by the classic 1860s sci-fi work by Jules Verne, “From the Earth to the Moon.” The “Princess Leia” necklace (a style worn by Carrie Fisher in “Star Wars”) is a 1970 Björn Weckström modernist piece in sterling silver, while the “Galaxies Whirl” necklace, a piece by Marianne Hunter (2008), features enamel, gold, meteorite and gemstones. Blue stones float on a gold cuff by Alexis Bittar.

“It fascinates me that so many jewelers had space in their mind,” Karlin says.

Brenda Smith’s “Meteorite” earrings interpret a shower of gems, while the quiet of the night is echoed in the inlaid “Navajo Sky” belt buckle by Native American designer Jesse Monongye, a piece that features lapis, coral, opal and turquoise.

Throughout, there are Sputnik-shaped earrings and rocket-shaped pins, work featuring fiber optic beads and dichroic glass.

There’s a West Point ring worn in space by astronaut Edward White II and a Lunar Excursion model created by Cartier in Paris in 1969. A Tiffany & Co. Victorian starburst pendant is another star.

And if that brush with the stars has your attention, stay tuned as Karlin may become a real movie star. Well, documentary star.

She’s working on “A Story to Wear: A Documentary about Jewelry History” to offer an unusual glimpse into the world of jewelry through the tastes and thoughts of those who wear it – and why.

Funding got a boost with a Kickstarter campaign but she says more is needed.

It’s a project that Karlin says she is “trying to get back to. … We need to raise money.”

The ideal situation would be to find corporate sponsorship to supplement the grassroots funding that has allowed an enticing trailer to be filmed.

Until then, she’ll be part of a curator’s tour in July at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, an event tied to the Barbara Berger jewelry exhibition, and preparing for upcoming lectures and the ASJRA annual conference. This autumn’s edition will be devoted to “Across Time: The Symbolic Meanings of Jewelry.” She’s also going to be doing some work in conjunction with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in November.

It’s all part of the ASJRA mission, she says.

“Part of what we do is to promote the education of jewelry studies,” Karlin says.

No matter the venue or the project, one of Karlin’s favorite things about jewelry is how it brings people together. You might admire the necklace of a woman next to you in an elevator. Next thing you know, you’re hearing all about its history, where she got it and why she loves it.

It’s that power of meaning, of connection that keeps Karlin not only captivated by her chosen field but by jewelry itself – every single day.

As she says, “I don’t go to the grocery store without jewelry on.”

“Out of this World! Jewelry in the Space Age” continues through Sept. 7 at The Forbes Galleries, at 62 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan. For more details, visit forbesgalleries.com. For more on the documentary, visit storytowear.com.

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