In New York, an Exhibition Pairs Fine Jewelry With Antiques

In a time of unease, there is something uniquely grounding and delightfully escapist about immersing yourself in the past. Jean Prounis’s lifelong fascination with her own family history has become indelibly intertwined with her namesake jewelry line. You’ll find traces of the Versailles—a storied 1940s New York cabaret club that her great-grandfather co-owned—percolating throughout the brand identity (including a trademark shade of green lifted from the club’s interiors). Meanwhile, Prounis’s Greek heritage informs not only the shapes and forms of her pieces, but also a signature alloy of 22 karat gold, which mimics the blend favored by the ancient Minoans.

Prounis’s latest collection, Chapter VII, plumbs a whole new source of inspiration: the glasswork of the German renaissance. To celebrate the new designs and place them into glorious context, she organized a special exhibition with the writer and curator Camille Okhio, in which her jewels will be displayed among an apt array of antique furniture, objets d’art and décor. Titled Waldglas: A Study In Prunts, the show will be held on June 6th and June 7th at The Whitney Studio in New York City.

Willem Claesz. Heda’s 1634 painting “Still Life with Fruit Pie and Various Objects” features an ornate krautstrunk goblet.

Courtesy of Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain.

From the 14th century to the 17th century, Germany produced a wealth of glasswork known as waldglass, or “forest glass,” so called because it was made in woodland workshops in northern Germany, where there was a surplus of the wood needed to fuel glass furnaces. These glassworks were famous for their green tint—a result of iron oxide impurities in the sand from which the glass was made—and took shape in many forms. But it’s the krautstrunk vessels (which translates to “cabbage stalk” in German) that caught Prounis’s eye—and more specifically the protrusions typically applied to their exteriors, known as prunts. These “ornamental surface forms,” the designer says, are “beautiful blobs, more or less.” They were both decorative and functional, “considering how wasted people used to get,” Okhio quips. “It’s easier to keep your grip on a cup that’s covered in extrusions.”

For her new collection, Prounis is zeroing in on this particular element and translating it into ​​lapidary forms. You’ll find prunts rendered in a range of stones—from glassy green prasiolite to a peachy antique coral, rock crystal, and jade with a forest green hue. You’ll also see nods to the cabbage stalk-like appearance of krautstrunk, and more weightless-looking designs as well that recall other glass decorative elements from the same era.

Polished stone pendants inspired by prunts, a feature of German glassware from the renaissance era.

Courtesy of Prounis

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22 karat gold earrings with blush tourmalines and pearls.

Courtesy of Prounis

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Complementing the jewelry on display is an array of antiques curated by Okhio—also available for purchase—and culled from different collectors. To hone her vision for the mix, Camille conjured a sort of imaginary figure: “I was thinking about this man who would be using forest glass in the era that it was made,” she tells me. “Most of the people who could afford decorative glass in large quantities at that time were generally the merchant class. They traveled all over Europe, sometimes to North Africa, sometimes to Asia, and brought back rugs and carvings.”

Among the Prounis jewelry you’ll find Flemish tapestries and paintings, an 18th century pine dower chest adorned with decorative floral forms that resemble the marginalia in medieval illuminated manuscripts, early-19th-century tabletop boxes that would make stunning vessels for jewelry, and a set of Queen Anne chairs, which Okhio chose not only because the royal reigned during the era of waldglass, but also because the woven seating spoke to the spindlier jewelry pieces in an interesting way. She also sourced two exquisite Bessarabian floral rugs that will be used to cover two long tables where some of the jewelry will be displayed, echoing the design conventions of the era. Rounding out the exhibition will be historical reproductions of the Krautstrunk forest glassworks, as well as a limited run of new prunt-inspired glass paperweights.

Fitting for a show ablaze with storybook romance, it’s being held in Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s former art studio in Greenwich Village, the defining feature of which is the fireplace, a bas-relief sculpture by Robert Winthrop Chandler that extends into a column of flames onto the ceiling. Like the krautstrunk, The Whitney Studio is an extraordinary relic, and a reminder of the power and wisdom of history.

On June 7th, at 12 P.M., Camille Okhio and Jean Prounis will host a panel with glass scholars Susie Silbert and Ana Matisse Donefer.

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