Cooke's jewelry is a model of restraint

June 06, 1995|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Special to The Sun

When Liz Taylor wears a diamond ring, she wants its VTC ostentatious sparkle to light up the room. For that very reason, she'd probably hate the sleekly modernistic jewelry designs of Betty Cooke.

This is jewelry for women who value restraint, even when it's fashioned from gold, silver, diamonds, pearls and other precious stones.

A 1946 graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, Ms. Cooke is the subject of a retrospective there spanning her output from 1945 to the present. Her approach has been so consistent over the years that as you walk from one wall-mounted display case to the next you tend to ignore individual dates and simply consider her career in terms of its continuity.

Schooled in the geometric and minimalist ideals of the German Bauhaus, as filtered through its American disciples, she conceives of her jewelry as sculpture in motion. Think of a sculptor like Alexander Calder and then imagine having a mini-mobile hanging around your neck. Many of Ms. Cooke's necklaces consist of similarly cascading disc-like forms linked by slender metallic strands. These necklaces are beautifully streamlined and angular, as, presumably, are some of the

women who wear such stylish stuff.

Because her modern sensibility is so purely expressed, it comes as no surprise that her jewelry has been collected by New York's Museum of Modern Art and American Craft Museum. Another sign of her renown in her profession is that she has twice won the De Beers Diamonds Today Award.

Fortunately, her well-ordered modernism does not translate to static forms. If anything, she strives for a slightly asymmetrical quality in most pieces, makes quasi-organic references, and has a measure of wit in her work.

Necklaces consisting mainly of long metallic strands are often ornamented with the occasional single pearl or cluster of pearls placed at irregular intervals. Other neck pieces rely on silver coils that wrap around the neck in an almost vine-like fashion. And her frequent variations on the star form indicate her desire to make abstract jewelry designs with idiosyncratic shapes.

As for the humor, it comes through best in the annual commissions she receives from James Rouse to create birthday and anniversary pieces for his wife, Patty. These feature numerical references worked into the jewelry design itself, as in a gold pin set with 13 cultured pearls for a 13th anniversary gift.

COOKE'S TOUR

What: Betty Cooke retrospective

Where: Meyerhoff Gallery of the Fox Building at the Maryland Institute, College of Art

When: Through June 25

Hours: The gallery is open Monday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Call: (410) 225-2300

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