The life and jewelry of Gustav Manz

In the first decade of the 1900s Gustav and Martha Manz moved across the Hudson River to the budding artists' community of Leonia, New Jersey. As Manz estab­lished his life as a family man (the couple had three daugh­ters, Doris, Helen, and Ger­trude-who died in infancy), his career as a jeweler also began to blossom. One of the companies he seems to have been associated with before "branching out for himself" was that of Charles P. Gold­smith, which advertised strikingly Manz-like wares in the Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review in 1901 (see Fig. 8). That same year Manz is listed as a jeweler on his own for the first time in the New York directory. Until 1903 his business was registered at 41 Maiden Lane in Lower Manhattan, then the center of the city's jewelry trade.

Chronologically speaking, the next clues to Manz's career are some entry forms for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, held in Saint Louis in 1904, which reveal that he crafted twenty-five of the twenty-seven pieces displayed by F. Walter Lawrence.12 Of these only one is known today, an art nouveau hair comb made of "Cyprian glass," tortoise­shell, "hand-wrought" gold, diamonds, and demantoid garnets (Fig. 4). On the entry forms, Lawrence is listed as the "designer" and Manz as the "maker" of the pieces, so it is reasonable to conclude that Manz was simply hired to make the jewelry to Lawrence's specifications. However, this type of split attribution is probably not as clear-cut as the document suggests. For one thing, the same dragonflies and reeds appear repeatedly in Manz's known repertoire and are re­corded in his journals as sold to other companies (see Fig. 5). It seems most unlikely that he would have provided Lawrence's designs to other firms. Reinforc­ing the argument that he designed objects himself is a silver dish actually marked "manz" that is closely related to one advertised by the Lawrence firm, osten­sibly as its own design (see Fig. 6). Similarly, a surviv­ing mermaid handbag mounting marked by Lawrence matches one pictured in a Manz advertising photograph (Fig. 9).

This complex set of circumstances makes an attribution challenging. If, however, one has the patience and inclina­tion to scour Manz's journals and study his extant works, it is possible to get a very good sense, and often detailed descriptions, of the thousands of objects he produced. They typically incorporated the organic stylizations and romanticized iconography that dominated the decorative arts throughout the Belle Epoch, including animal, floral, exotic, patriotic, and classical motifs.

Perhaps the examples most readily iden­tifiable as his are those that incorporate ani­mal forms. As A. M. Veghte of F. Walter Lawrence, stated in 1952, "Gustav Manz... was the finest carver of animal jewelry during his years in the jewelry business."13 His journals and extant works document innu­merable examples adorned with, among other creatures, panthers, elephants, bulls, bears, snakes, dogs, eagles, and peacocks. His little wearable animal sculptures are natural­istically rendered, detailed, and almost (if not completely) fully modeled in space. He frequently employed them atop stick pins, their surfaces either finely chased or com­pletely pavé-set with tiny diamonds. These pins were sold in sets of six to all his regular clients, including Raymond C. Yard and Black, Starr and Frost. He also used animals in an array of other formats, including free­standing sculpture, bookends, and on silver wares. His skill apparently derived from his study of live animals, for his grandson Arthur Rathjen vividly recalls his grandfather bringing home a baby wildcat "from the Bronx Zoo" to study and sketch.14  And in an amusing passage in his granddaughter's biography Manz is

described as "the little man with the pink-white moustache and walking stick," who would "long be remembered by his friends... the care takers at the zoo." Perhaps more than any other form, the panther was Manz's defining motif. Panther stick pins were among his most popular items (see Fig. 10), and his "Fighting Panther" rings were sold to a num­ber of firms, including Bailey, Banks and Biddle of Phila­delphia. A 1917 catalogue for A. A. Vantine's Oriental Store in New York (one of Manz's most active clients at the time) features a wide array of novelties, including a jewelry section with panther rings clearly by Manz, al­beit ostensibly advertised as Asian imports. Manz made a bronze sculpture entitled Fighting Panthers that was exhibited at the National Arts Club in 1912, but it was not a critical success.15

Although they comprised a huge part of his legacy, Manz's animals were only part of his repertoire. His jewelry also incorporated di­minutive naturalistic depictions of plant life, such as leaves, branches, cattail reeds, lily pads, lotuses, grape­vines, or other floral motifs, the surfaces minutely finished to evoke the texture of bark, stem, leaf, or petal. Indeed, his journals show that he sold such works to Tiffany and Company at a time when Louis Comfort Tiffany was putting out the same type of designs.

His repeated devices also included symbols of exotic and ancient cultures. Some of the designs in his journals are labeled "Japanese," "Persian," and even "Aztec." He created many (at least hundreds of) pieces of Egyptian-themed jewelry, most of which, judging by the account books, were sold through Tif­fany and Company. Manz's records indi­cate that his Egyptian designs were espe­cially popular in the early 1920s, when highly publicized excavations, among them the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, piqued the public's interest in all things Egyptian. His creations include an array of inventive pastiches of sphinxes, eyes of Horus, hieroglyphics, pyramids, winged scarabs, pharaohs, ankhs, asps, and lotuses. Manz freely combined these symbols without regard to their ancient significance but, rather, to achieve a pleasing aesthetic effect and general sense of "Egypt-ness."16 A review in the Jewelers' Circular of the American Indus­trial Art exhibition at the Metropolitan Mu­seum of Art in 1924 includes a photograph of an elaborate Egyptian revival pendant complete with enthroned pharaohs and a dangling pyra­mid by Gustav Manz (see Fig. 23).17

Manz also drew motifs from classical Greece and Rome, including columns, Ionic scrolls, acanthus leaves, and bellflower swags. He created forms with mermaids and bacchanalian themes; employed motifs inspired by Gothic architecture, such as quatrefoils and pointed arches; and regularly produced jewelry with such Far Eastern motifs as dragons, the seated Buddha, and pago­das. In the World War I era he also produced pieces with more contemporary patriotic themes, typically featuring eagles, sometimes with engraved flags, and/or set with red, white, and blue gemstones. A few designs incorporate the letters "USA."

Manz also executed several important commissions for sacred plate. For example, in 1932 the Jewelers' Circular described a solid gold ostensorium set with a hundred diamonds made for the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in New York and commissioned through the retailer Feeley Brothers. It was "a masterpiece of the goldsmith's craft...a labor of love on the part of Mr. Manz and is considered his crowning triumph as well as a brilliant fulfillment of his highest ambitions."18

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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