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February 18, 2009 to April 26, 2009

Challenging the Châtelaine

Organized by the Designmuseo, Helsinki, Finland and Helen W. Drutt English

Challenging the Châtelaine was an extensive international overview of the diversity within  a unique genre of jewelry design—the châtelaine. The exhibition included works by over seventy artists from Europe, North and South America, Australia and Japan, and was conceived by Helen W. Drutt English.

The origin of the French word châtelaine comes from the Middle Ages and meant the mistress of the castle. One of her typical features was a key ring she wore around the waist. The word was then adopted into the English language with the same meaning. In the 19th century châtelaine also came to mean a pendant worn on a belt. During this period, the chatelaine symbolized power as a means of managing property and its keeper had access to what lay behind locked doors and the authority to access it. Today it has evolved from this traditional function to become an emblem of the wearer. For this exhibition the key has become symbolic as a “key” to the personality of the subject chosen.

For the exhibition, invited artists were free to decide on the type of chatelaine they wished to make and to whom it was dedicated. The personalities used to inspire the pieces in the exhibition varied widely and the role models chosen represented differing relationships to the artists, ranging from fervent admiration to biting sarcasm. The most popular figures were fellow visual artists, writers, singers, actors, and designers. Other figures include politicians, royalty, scientists, culinary artists, entrepreneurs, engineers or family members. The diverse range of role models included Eva Peron, John James Audubon, Leonard Cohen, Leonardo da Vinci, Julia Child, Claude Monet, and Cinderella, among many others.

With a role model at their starting point, the artists invited to participate interpreted this expressive symbol in a wide variety of ways. For some of the artists it is not worn on the belt at all, but rather has been interpreted as a brooch, earrings or as a free standing sculptural form. Stretching the conventions of jewelry design, the works ranged from traditionally worn pieces out of conventional materials to montages of readymade elements such as pens, spoons, razors and toys. Alongside metal, the artists also employed wood, clay, fabric, Plexiglas, photographs, dough and even medications.

Originating at the Designmuseo, Finland, Challenging the Châtelaine traveled throughout Europe, incuding Lalounis Jewelry Museum, Athens, Greece, Design Museum, Gent, Belgium, Stedelijk Museum's, Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, and Kunsterhaus, Vienna, Austria. The Philadelphia Art Alliance was the only venue to host the exhibition in the United States.

Tags: jewelry, metals, mixed media