A personal collection of objects can be thought of as a portrait. It can speak volumes about what an individual is drawn to, what their aesthetic might be, and how they view the world. A personal collection of jewelry is potentially even more telling because jewelry is one of the most intimate and powerful forms of self-expression. Beyond Bling: Jewelry from the Lois Boardman Collection at LACMA provides a window into the life and personality of the octogenarian South Pasadena resident.
The exhibit of contemporary studio jewelry includes over 50 pieces from the 300-piece collection gifted by Boardman to the county museum in 2013. Highlighting how jewelry can communicate personal or political messages, the pieces are whimsically grouped as "animal," "vegetable," "mineral," and "plastic." According to LACMA, "the jewelers in the collection have followed the lead of earlier makers who defied conventions by creating innovative designs and using non-precious materials to make works prized for their artistic rather than monetary value." Jewelers from the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are represented (including 5 from California.)
Curators Rosie Mills and Bobbye Tigerman spent three years bringing the exhibit to fruition. "I had not previously had the experience of working with a collector but Lois immediately put me at ease" says Mills. "With her it's like family now, and we had the warm company of her two very large and affectionate poodles who were just as curious about Lois's treasures as we were." She found the Boardman home a cabinet of curiosities. "Everywhere you looked there was something unusual and intriguing, and then she'd pull something out of a cabinet that would totally blow your mind."
The two curators were amused at Boardman's low-key approach to her obviously impressive collection. Many of the pieces were pulled out from under beds. "Isn't that neat, she'd say. I really enjoy her deadpan humor," says Mills.
Boardman, who is 85, has spent her life working in and around art. Born in Chicago, she studied anthropology in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she met her husband Bob, enrolled there as a medical student. Living in Southern California by 1959, she would go on to study ceramics with Ralph Bacerra at Chouinard, and work at the Pasadena Art Museum (now Norton Simon Museum) in programming. Later she joined the Pasadena Art Alliance, an independent volunteer group that supports contemporary art in Southern California. She also has a long standing relationship with LACMA's Decorative Arts Council (the funding arm of the department mounting Beyond Bling.)
Her interest in collecting contemporary jewelry was sparked by meeting her long-time friend, the gallerist and craft collector Helen Drutt English, in 1980. Before meeting English, Boardman's jewelry consisted of a wedding ring and little more. "It suddenly became fun," she says. Initially advised in her collecting by English, Boardman embraced the search for new pieces online and through dealers. A world traveler, she has made more than a few trips to Munich Jewelry Week, a yearly event that displays and supports contemporary jewelry.
For a woman who once famously wore a custom-made gold nose (crafted for her by German jeweler Gerd Rothman) to the supermarket, Boardman seemed to want to downplay the importance of her over three decades of collecting avant garde jewelry during a recent chat at her home. She says that, until the LACMA curators came into her life, she had thought of herself as an "accumulator, not a collector."
"It's not been the biggest part of my life, really," Boardman continues. "It's been fun but you balance your life...It wasn't all the time that I was looking at jewelry. People that I know here in Pasadena didn't even know that I had this. I would wear one thing at a time." When asked why she chose to collect contemporary jewelry (as opposed to, say, Victorian pieces), she says "well, this is my time and I could go out and look at it. I'm a product of my time."
Sitting in the lush, slightly overgrown garden with her poodles, Boardman reflected on the decision to give the collection a home at LACMA.
"It happened because I was getting older and when you get older you start thinking about things like that. Letting go hasn't been painful because I know It's all going to be preserved. The makers appreciate this more than anyone else. Very few museums take them in. And that makes me feel good."
"Beyond Bling:Jewelry from the Lois Boardman Collection" on view at LACMA until Feb.5, 2017.
Necklace by Nancy Worden. Gilded copper, Japanese and US currency (including 1964 and 1965 Kennedy half dollars with gilding), coral, turquoise, bone, brass.