The package came wrapped as if it were a delivery from Fort Knox.
And well might it have been: “Temple St. Clair: The Golden Menagerie” (Assouline) is golden indeed, from its lettering and paper edges to its organic creations which are inspiringly, thrillingly paired with some of the great works of art.
But the book is just one of the latest accomplishments of the jeweler, who is celebrating 30 years in the business. In July, her 18-karat, eight-ring “Tolomeo” pendant with mixed sapphires and diamonds was added to the permanent collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, making her only the third American artist — after Louis Comfort Tiffany and Alexander Calder — to be so honored. The piece — inspired by the first-century philosopher Ptolemy, who believed the earth was the center of the universe — crystallizes what makes St. Clair a great jeweler. Yes, precious metals and stones employed in imaginative designs that capture the beauty of flora and fauna are part of it. But, above all else, there are ideas here.
“Temple St. Clair is a storyteller,” Dominique Forest, chief curator of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, Jewelry, Musée des Arts Décoratifs observed at the time of the announcement. “As she delves into astronomy, the Middle Ages and antiquity, her work represents a luxurious and voluptuous vision.”
In “The Golden Menagerie” — whose works have been presented at the Louvre, The Salon Art + Design at the Park Avenue Armory and the DeLorenzo Gallery in Manhattan — that vision leaps on, around and off the page, offset by artworks and literary quotes. The Night Owl ring — made of gold with a star sapphire, a Ceylon sapphire, an emerald and a diamond — is accompanied by the words of poet Philip Sidney: “O you virtuous owl, the wise Minerva’s only fowl.” It’s truly a ring fit for the goddess of wisdom, arts and crafts and war in a just cause. The sweet-faced Sleeping Fox ring of gold with spinels, Mandarin and Malaya garnets, emeralds and diamonds, nestles in the snow across from a fox detail from “The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries” at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. The Frog Prince ring of gold with a Mandarin garnet, tsavorites, a Ceylon sapphire, cat’s eyes and diamonds, clings to a vine, “Hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold,” as naturalist John Muir wrote. And those are just some of the rings.
They speak of a woman whose love of nature and culture was nurtured at an international school in Switzerland and in travels from North Africa to India and Japan. In her 20s, St. Clair wound up in Florence where she earned a master’s degree in Italian literature and where an ancient coin, purchased by her visiting mother, proved the key to a life in the decorative arts. Tasked with commissioning a local goldsmith to offset it with jewelry, St. Clair took the coin and a sketch to the goldsmiths of the Palazzo dell’Orafo and a career was born.
It is one, she has said, that enables “a hopeless hunter and gatherer, a bit of a wanderer and a self-made jewelry historian” to draw — and to dream.
Temple St. Clair’s jewelry is sold at Richards in Greenwich. For more, visit templestclair.com.