Friday, August 12, 2016

The winged horse of inspiration ~ Fred Davis, the Byzantines and a fabulous Mexican silver and amethyst Bracelet

Considered one of the early forces behind Mexico's 20th c. Silver Renaissance though based in Mexico City and not Taxco, Fred Davis was a Chicago-ite who found himself south of the border as early as 1910. An avid collector of folk art and pre-Colombian antiques - I believe I read somewhere that he even organized archeological excavations himself since it was not illegal to do so at the time in Mexico - he is widely recognized as a major proponent of the country's arts and crafts and staunch supporter of Mexico's contemporary artists as well.

Fred Davis silver and black onyx "mask" ring
Quite often inspired by the country's rich historical heritage and robust folk tradition, Davis's jewelry can look distinctly "archeological", its Maya and Aztec motifs at times pared down to absolute minimalist lines or more in line with Spanish Colonial design.

F. Davis silver and turquoise necklace and bracelet set

And then came this bracelet!

monumental Fred Davis silver and amethyst hinged bracelet

I have to admit that I was not prepared for the proportions of the piece! As somebody who spent the last several years buying and selling and studying vintage Mexican silver jewelry, I considered myself used to the fact that those old maestros loved to create necklaces and bracelets and earrings that are bold and in-your-face and simply beyond the realm of "normal" expectations. But the bracelet at hand was literally monumental and my stature, limited at 5' 4" I am afraid, could never support such a piece.

Yet what really intrigued me was the design itself. I had never seen it before - not by Davis, not by anybody else. What was the source that inspired it? Was there anything in my books that even resembled this mass of perfectly patina-ed silver and the luscious amethyst that complemented it?

No matter how hard I tried, I only found one photo in Morrill and Berk's, Mexican Silver, showing a pair of pins and a set of earrings that looked similar. So I resigned myself to my meager findings and life went on. Until, quite some time later, while reading Claire Phillips's, Jewelry From Antiquity to the Present, I turned a page and... there it was, in black and white, the piece that probably inspired my stunning Fred Davis bracelet.

Byzantine gold bracelets with pearls, amethyst, glass and sapphires,
500-700 CE

Housed in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York - I just love that place! - there is a pair of Byzantine gold, pearl and precious stones bracelets that were discovered in Upper Egypt yet believed to have been made in Constantinople. The pair dates in the 500-700 period and it is just breath-taking in its craftsmanship, combination of materials and that sense of history it carries within it.

I might be asking you to take a leap of faith here but the minute I "discovered" the Byzantine pieces, I felt convinced that they must have been the inspiration for Davis's bracelet. Materials and proportions, of course, differ (Davis did exaggerate on size a little bit!) but the design elements are similar and the overall appearance of our Mexican example undoubtedly points in the direction of the Met - to my eyes at least. It's a tantalizing hypothesis, don't you think?

hallmarks on Fred Davis amethyst bracelet