I was first introduced to Levi Higgs by Danielle from Gem Gossip, after she wrote a great post on him (Q & A with Levi Higgs). My curiosity led me to his beautiful Instagram account and into his eclectic world. My next step was to reach out to him to learn more.
Josette: You were quickly amassing knowledge while studying for your MA and working as an archivist at David Webb. What sparked your interest in jewelry as an art history student with a focus in Decorative Arts?
Levi: This past May, I graduated with my MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design from Parsons the New School for Design, partnered with the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.
In June of 2013, I started part time at David Webb in the archives department, and once I graduated, I was hired full time. Initially my interest in jewelry and decorative arts started as an undergraduate art history student at the University of Washington in Seattle. My art history honors advisor was Professor Susan Casteras, who was formerly the Curator at the Yale Center for British Art, and she is a Pre-Raphaelite specialist as well. I took a graduate seminar with her in which we studied Victorian interiors through paintings, and deduced the symbolism implied through objects placed within the scene. Victorians were obsessed with “thingness” as she put it, so even a dropped glove on a parlor floor implies a secret life of unsavory details. She made me see decorative arts and material culture as an important piece of art history that places aesthetics in context that isn’t as widely explored in undergraduate courses.
So, I sought out decorative arts master’s programs. My options weren’t many, and I am so glad to have ended up at Parsons. To focus on jewelry specifically started as an idea when I was an undergraduate as well, studying abroad in Rome for four months. I visited an exhibition at the Vatican of Fabergé eggs, and was blown away by the artistry and mystery of them. Naturally, jewelry is basically the ultimate decorative art, as it sits in a categorical liminal space where the objects themselves have no “use” in the same way a ceramic vase or a textile has a use, however, the function jewelry serves is to display the wearer’s views on many types of ideas. One’s predilections for style, politics, aesthetics, wealth, status, are many attributes that jewelry can convey. It was wonderful to be able to study the objects I’ve loved so much. Jewelry also is a fascinating medium to study art history through, as the aesthetic of a certain period is magnified tenfold through the lens of the jeweled arts. Art Deco sensibilities manifest themselves geometrically and perfectly through the use of baguette diamonds, and the undulations of Art Nouveau French jewelry is magnificently well articulated. Long answer to a short question! But that’s how I ended up where I am today.
Josette: I follow you on Instagram and love your sense of style. You have a great eye and a sensibility towards beautiful things. What are you looking for when observing/studying an object?
Levi: Thank you! I really don’t have any certain criteria when Instagraming, however I try to always make my feed about decorative arts and design history. I like beautiful, well-composed images that impart a nugget of history. Naturally, I try to take lots of pictures of jewelry or decorative arts objects when I have access to them. I think Instagram is most successful when the image is edited well, but also feels like something you could have taken yourself. It’s supposed to feel special, like an image a friend would send you and say, “hey, look at this amazing thing I found!” I also am drawn to objects that thrust their design to the forefront. For instance, when I go to Sotheby’s and Christie’s to see the jewelry previews, I gravitate toward pieces like the Fouquet aquamarine brooch I posted recently, because the design is so strong, it’s a unique piece, it’s colorful, and it has a history and a story besides just being a knock-out humongous gemstone.
Josette: I love Gemgossip’s feature on you titled “Show me your brooch”. Occasionally I see some of my men clients wearing brooches at the trade shows and I love it! I think it’s a great trend. Do you own any and do you have any favorite?
Levi: I do have a small collection of brooches, however, I wish it were bigger, of course! I have a few Georg Jensen brooches, one that is a silver pansy from the 1930s that was a graduation gift from friends, and one that is a heritage piece from 2008, but a 1914 design. I have a few pieces from my great grandmother that she wore in the 1920s and 30s that are Montana agates in a gilt frame that I love. I also have a David Webb enameled zebra brooch that I was gifted as a graduation gift that is probably the crown jewel of my collection! I’m more and more drawn to the work of contemporary art jewelers, and I know that seems out of my realm, but good design is good design. My favorite recent piece that I’m longing for I spotted on a summer trip upstate to Hudson, New York. It was a Bi Brooch by Japanese jewelry artist Jiro Kamata at Ornamentum Gallery. He uses camera equipment and coated lenses to create his pieces, and they are colorful and mind-bending.
Josette: You have a very bright future ahead of you, and I can only imagine what you might want to do. Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Levi: Basically an impossible question to answer, but again, thank you for your support! I love my job at David Webb. I’m a part of an amazing heritage American brand, and I get to see the inner workings of a luxury jewelry house every day. We make all our jewelry in our workshop on Madison Avenue, and still remain true to the aesthetic and designs of David Webb. It’s a fascinating place to be right now, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve always said that I am interested in combining intense historical knowledge in a contemporary way, and I feel that that is exactly what happens at Webb. We are making jewelry for contemporary society but sticking true to a very historic, bold, and design driven aesthetic, largely from the 1960s and 70s. I’ve also thought about other applications of this line of thinking, such as the costumer and jewelry designer who works on period dramas like Downton Abbey. I’ve actually met and worked with Andrew Prince, the jewelry designer for Downton Abbey, through my time at Kentshire Galleries, when I was part-time there as my first job in New York. He was lovely and has a vast historical knowledge of the period’s jewelry and fits perfectly for Downton. Some kind of a historical consultant or heritage director would be a marvelous job to have, and so fun and rewarding. We shall see what happens. Thank you so much for this interview!
Thank you Levi, it is an honor to have you on the blog. I wish you the best of luck and a great future ahead. With such a scholarly background I am sure you will have many opportunities that will take you far.