J. Fred Woell was an icon in the contemporary American jewelry world. According to Janel Koplos and Bruce Metcalf in their book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, Woell was the first American jeweler to consistently use found objects in his work, and "he was also amongst the first to add an undertone of social commentary" (p. 277). His work has been collected by numerous private collectors and public institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Most of Woell’s jewelry is comprised of beer cans, soda tops, and any other metal object he could get his hands on. According to Eleanor Moty, fellow artist and longtime friend of Woell, “Through his jewelry and sculpture, Fred expressed his thoughts and reactions about conditions and situations that exist in contemporary society, and he used discarded materials as a statement against the waste and excess in American culture.” Social Security Alert, a large, round brooch, is one of Woell’s pieces he crafted from found objects, including a postage stamp of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a wristwatch mechanism, and a buffalo head nickel soldered to a metal banner that reads, "BE PREPARED."
Around 1970, ll also began using disposable materials, plastic toy parts, and other items people may deem as trash to create molds for cast silver jewelry and small sculptures. The other two Woell pieces we have in our collection, T-Spoon and Nile Nite Flite, are examples of this type of work. To learn more about Woell, read this post on our blog!