Art Smith lived and worked in New York, and was one of the most prominent and beloved figures in the early modern studio jewelry movement. Born in 1917 to immigrant parents, he attended Cooper Union, where he was one of just a handful of black students. He was encouraged by his professors to study architecture, who suggested that he would have and easier time finding a job in more nondiscriminatory civil sector. But Art ultimately majored in sculpture and went on to study jewelry making under Winifred Mason, a black jewelry designer who eventually became his mentor, and he worked with her in Greenwich Village until opening his own shop in 1946. As an openly gay black man, his original shop location was subject to vandalization and attacks, forcing him to eventually move to the West Village, opening up a shop on West 4th street.
Smith worked out of his West Village shop for 30 years, and went on to develop an impressive client list, including both major retailers and private collectors. His work was exhibited in museum collections and featured in Vogue. In addition to commercial work, he also designed costume pieces for several black dance companies. This work allowed him to explore his favorite theme: movement and the relationship of jewelry to the body.
"A piece of jewelry is in a sense an object that is not complete in itself. Jewelry is a ‘what is it?’ until you relate it to the body. The body is a component in design just as air and space are. Like line, form, and color, the body is a material to work with. It is one of the basic inspirations in creating form." - Art Smith
Movement is so beautifully present in so much of his work, whether it be the way that a ring or earring interacts with the body, or the fluidity of form in his sculptural collars and cuffs. There is an improvisational quality to his work that makes it feel natural and approachable, but at the same time, easily identifies him as a master of his craft.