Bill Smith, American, 1933-1991, Emerald green oval cabochon earrings set with white rhinestones, Coco Series, 1968-1970, unknown; pearl and rhinestone. Loan from JoAnne Spiller private collection.

Bill Smith: Jewelry’s Maverick

May 25, 2024 - August 04, 2024

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Born and raised in Madison, Indiana, Bill Smith (1933-1991) was one of the most innovative jewelry designers of the 1960s and ‘70s. His outlandish costume and body jewelry, often made from industrial materials and inspired by Africa and the Middle East, associated body ornamentation with movement and grandeur. His genius was recognized with a Coty Award in 1970 and an appointment to vice president of premier jewelry firm, Richelieu– both unprecedented feats for a Black designer.

However, in the 30 years since his death, Smith’s important contributions to fashion and design have been largely forgotten. This exhibition brings over 100 pieces together in the most comprehensive showing of his work to date. Selected objects on view include a rare pearl vest which caused scandal for its sensuality when first debuted, the complete set of Smith’s popular Zodiac collection, and jewelry from the Broadway production of Coco, a musical on the life of famous designer Coco Chanel starring Katharine Hepburn.

This exhibition was co-curated by Jenna Gilley, Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the FWMoA, and JoAnne Spiller, Director of Education at Jefferson County Historical Society (JCHS) and author of Visionary Designs by Bill Smith, t.j. Loans were provided by JCHS and JoAnne Spiller from her private collection. This exhibition is supported by the Edward D. and Ione Auer Foundation.