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“This is jewelry that speaks quietly and poignantly and that encourages wearer and spectator to interact.”
Brief History of Betty Cooke Jewelry
Catherine Elizabeth "Betty" Cooke was born in 1924, in Baltimore, Maryland. As a child, she collected pebbles, shells and seedpods and liked making things from them. She also had a natural aptitude for drawing. She studied art in high school, then went on to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where she earned a BFA in education—the only art degree available at the time. While she mostly sculpted, an apprenticeship with a jewelry maker brought out her love of designing jewelry—which in its own way is a form of sculpture for her. In fact, she thinks of her jewelry as “sculpture in motion.”
She taught at MICA for 22 years, one of her first courses was “Design and Materials,” in which she taught many returning World War II veterans the basic elements of furniture design with materials such as leather, fabric, wood and steel. One of her students was architect Bill Steinmetz, her future husband. The two collaborated on his architectural design projects as diverse as a restaurant, bowling alley and church. Not as great a digression for her as one might think: "I think in terms of jewelry, but jewelry is also sculpture that can be done on a large scale.”
Betty found a tiny home/studio/shop in a rundown neighborhood in Baltimore where she designed and sold leather goods and jewelry. She was in the vanguard of artist-residents in an area that would become an arts destination. Betty also sold her jewelry “on the road,” as she camped her way across the country. In Minneapolis, she visited the Walker Art Center just when a Modernist jewelry exhibition was being organized. She was invited to include several of her pieces, and she considers that the real start of her career as a jewelry designer. She is known as "an icon within the tradition of modernist jewelry"and "a seminal figure in American Modernist studio jewelry."
From the start, Betty emphasized design as the element that made her jewelry-making an art form. She liked architectural, clean-cut and simple designs. Her pieces have been shown nationally and internationally and are included in a number of museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada.
Even with all her education in the arts, she is large self-taught in jewelry design, her pure, geometric, minimalist style influenced by Bauhaus and Modernism.
Her career has spanned more than 70 years and an astonishing number of handmade pieces. In her 90s, she is still happily designing jewelry. She continues to create jewelry that is clean, spare and stunningly simplistic. The marvel is that the pieces she designed many years ago are as contemporary now as they were then.
Betty Cooke Jewelry Hallmarks
- “BETTY COOKE”
- “COOKE STERLING”
- “COOKE 14K”
Betty Cooke Jewelry Materials
- Sterling silver
- Ebony (some from old piano keys)
- Tahitian pearls
- Lapis lazuli
- Quartz crystal
Favorite Collectibles of Vintage Betty Cooke Jewelry
1950s-early 1960s – A “space age” design inspired by Sputnik, sterling silver brooch.
1950s – A brooch depicting a minnow fashioned from sterling silver and red, yellow and black enamel. Signed on the copper back plate.
Pre 1980s – Modernist design in gold and silver, face measures 1 inch by 1 1/8 inch.
1960s – Modernist design, 14K gold necklace with fixed, round gold disks on tube beads.
Pre 1970s – 14K gold and sterling silver disks connected by a curved wire.
Tips for Buying Vintage Betty Cooke Jewelry
- You can go right to the source and buy Betty's vintage jewelry (and possibly meet her) at her shop, The Store Ltd., in the Village of Cross Keys shopping center in Baltimore.
- Should a dealer advertise “original packaging,” you must know that Betty's packaging is very distinctive. Each jewelry piece is tucked into purple tissue paper and put into a white box with her signature on the top of the box.
- In general, follow the same guidelines as you would with any other jewelry designer, such as dealing with a vendor who you know, being sure you can return a piece for a refund if necessary, and checking for those hallmarks.