Elyse Korn Karlin never obtained a traditional, academic education in jewelry studies. Yet she is the co-director of the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts, an organization whose mission is to teach and enlighten people about jewelry in an accessible and friendly way.
Karlin began her journey with jewelry as a child when her aunt, an interior decorator, allowed her to tag along on shopping trips to antique stores. “I would just gravitate to the jewelry counter and I started asking dealers questions,” Karlin said. “I was a kid and I started buying little Victorian pieces and it became a lifelong pursuit.”
After earning a degree in journalism and a successful career in the advertising industry, Karlin volunteered as the president of the American Society of Jewelry Historians, for which she also wrote the organization’s newsletter. That didn’t satisfy Karlin’s desire to write more broadly for a wider audience so she and a collaborator, Yvonne Markowitz, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry Emerita at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, started a new jewelry magazine, “Adornment, The Magazine of Jewelry & Related Arts.”
“We wanted to cover jewelry in relationship to art, to decorative arts, to costumes, to current events and material finds, the whole gamut,” Karlin told me in a recent interview. “Yvonne and I both feel that jewelry is very much connected to everything else. I like to say it’s a window into history, that if you want to study history, if you use jewelry, it’s the way in. You can learn about everything.”
As often occurs when people pursue their passions, one thing led to another.
“Yvonne and I were just chatting one day about some of the articles we wanted to put in the magazine and somehow it turned into we should be having a conference on this subject,” Karlin said. “I believe our very first conference was jewelry in the context of historical costume. It was at the Fashion Institute of Technology and it was a big success. That was 10 years ago.”
They realized that they should create an umbrella organization to coordinate efforts for the magazine and conference, and founded ASJRA, which in addition to publishing “Adornment” three times a year and organizing the annual conference, also provides members a bi-monthly online newsletter and, once a year, an original book on the archives of a master jeweler.
Both Karlin and Markowitz decided they should make education, especially of young people, part of their mission.
“I hear from everyone that there are not enough young people coming up into the jewelry business,” Karlin said. “One of our goals to try to get jewelry history courses into college programs and maybe someday even be able to get a degree in jewelry history. That could be a long way off, but we’ve done our best to give young people a voice in what we do. We let them write for our magazine. We’ve had young scholars speak at our conferences and we encourage them in any way we can.”
Karlin and Markowitz pledge to continue to write, curate and provide conferences to make the world of jewelry accessible and enjoyable to everyone with an interest.
“We realized that we want people to have something new to say, not the same material hashed over again,” Karlin said. “Our writers and speakers come from academic backgrounds, but we instruct them that when they write their lectures they should not be overly academic, that this is for a general public who might just have an interest in jewelry. This is not a college course. This is meant to be available to everybody who’s interested in jewelry and we tell our writers for the magazine the same thing, that it should be a friendly tone.”
An ASJRA membership is $95, with discounts for professors and students. The application form can be found here.