Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Look of Love" at Birmingham Museum

By Lee J. Green

Birmingham will get to experience a rare gem as the first major exhibition of lover’s eye jewelry opens Feb. 7 at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

The Museum debuts “The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection,” which will be displayed through June 10. Exquisite in craftsmanship, unique in detail and few in number, lover’s eye miniatures are small-scale portraits of individual eyes set into various forms of jewelry from the late 18th and early 19th century England.

Featuring 96 pieces, this collection is considered the largest of its kind, with only 1,000 lover’s eye miniatures thought to be in existence worldwide.

The exhibit comes from the collection of Birmingham’s Nan and David Skier, involved members of the local Jewish community. It was organized by Dr. Graham Boettcher, the William C. Hulsey Curator of American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

These customized tokens depicting one another’s eyes became part of a trend that began with Britain’s Prince of Wales, who became King George IV. Clandestine lovers exchanged these, as such a feature might only be recognized by persons of the most intimate familiarity.

The Skiers began their lover’s eye miniature collection with a ring purchased at a 1993 antiques show. Over the past several years, they built the largest collection in the world.

“These rarities are at once works of art, precious jewels and fragments of history. How poignant it is that each eye represents an actual person and an actual story of love or bereavement,” said Nan Skier.

The collection includes lockets, rings, watch keys, toothpick cases, brooches, pendants and jewelry boxes.

The museum will also present a related event featuring a day of jewelry appraisal featuring Gloria Lieberman, vice president of Skinner Auctions of Boston. Trinket or Treasure will be Feb. 25.

Lieberman founded Skinner’s Fine Jewelry Department in 1980 and is considered one of the world’s renowned experts on antique jewelry.

That day appraisals will be held between 10 a.m. and noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. Lieberman will deliver a public lecture at noon. There will be fees for items appraised. But “The Look of Love” exhibition is free and open to the public during normal museum hours.