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Albert Paley

American, born 1944

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A native Philadelphian, Albert Paley received his B.A. in sculpture and M.F.A. in goldsmithing from the city's Tyler School of Art. Like many other artists during the 1960s, Paley reacted against the prevailing minimalist aesthetic in design and architecture. His own temperament was more in line with the seductively curving contours of Art Nouveau. He recalls the dawning awareness of his artistic leanings: "When I first studied design, I had Bauhaus teachers. At first, when I realized I was romantic, I was sort of shocked and shamed. But it is true . . . that the material I work most with is emotion."1 Ironically, the medium Paley chose to express his romantic lyricism and affinity for the soft yielding forms of Art Nouveau was solid metal.

Paley began his metalwork career making smaller scale jewelry pieces. While wearable, his jewelry reveals great sculptural ambitions, sometimes threatening to overwhelm the wearer's body, as in his ten-inch-wide Sectional Brooch. Paley's early jewelry also displays his quest for integrated designs in which the clasp mechanism and artistic form are unified in one composition. During his many travels abroad Paley studied the ancient Greek and Roman fibula forms (similar to the modern-day safety pin), and his thesis was on "The Integrated Mechanism in Jewelry Form." This commitment to unified design would become a mainstay of his career.

In the early 1970s Paley began to work on a larger scale and started receiving architectural commissions, most notably his 1973 ornamental gates for the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. Just as his jewelry displayed sculptural qualities, his large-scale projects have the ornamental complexity of jewelry. Although potent and grand, these imposing works still have a curving grace and ease of composition. Around 1978 Paley abandoned making jewelry altogether and devoted himself to his architectural and sculptural works. Paley also produced a range of furniture pieces, such as his 1982 Plant Stand. In this, as in all of his works, he reveals an ability to transform steel into a supple gestural medium.

Suzanne Ramljak, from Crafting a Legacy: Contemporary American Crafts in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2002), p. 142.

1. Gail P. Zlatnik, "Functional Ornament: The Ironwork of Albert Paley," Albert Paley, exh. brochure (Iowa City: University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1983), n.p.

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