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The Newport Restoration Foundation is delighted to be partnering with renowned New York jewelry company David Webb on a second exhibition that celebrates the 50th anniversary for NRF and the 70th anniversary for David Webb.
Designing for Doris: David Webb Jewelry and Newport's Architectural Gems pairs what might seem like dissonant archival material - hand-drawn restoration plans and designs for bespoke jewelry – to underscore in visual terms the variety of Duke's interests and her transformative influence in art, design, and preservation in the late 1950s through the 1970s in New York and Newport.
The desire to fashion something new and fabulous from something old and cherished brought Doris Duke into David Webb's New York jewelry shop for the first time in November 1957. The resulting spectacular diamond brooch was just the first of many treasures that Duke would commission from David Webb in the next 12 years.
In 1957 Duke also reopened Rough Point, her childhood summer home, after an absence of many years. Newport inspired her interest in another kind of renewal – the revitalization of the city's Colonial streetscapes and in 1968 the founding of the Newport Restoration Foundation. In both design pursuits Duke played a close personal role, and drawings allowed her to follow and respond throughout the creative process.
Each of the thirty drawings in this exhibition tells the story of jewelry commissioned by Doris Duke (1912-1993) or the restoration of 18th-century buildings in Newport. They were drawn by the jeweler David Webb (1925-1975) and his staff of renderers or by architects employed by the Newport Restoration Foundation, and they all represent a transformation or reinvention of one sort or another. Tying them together is a common thread of practical beauty inspired by the singular personality of Doris Duke, for whom they were made.
Presentation Drawing of Cultured Pearl and Diamond Earrings
Potter House 35 Green Street, Restored Stairway Details
Proposed Reconstruction (Corner of Thames and Bridge Streets)
Presentation Drawing of Diamond Foliate Brooch
On November 25, 1966, Doris Duke sat down with David Webb to discuss making a pair of large diamond and pearl earrings. An entry in the company ledger records her visit to the shop and includes the simple instruction “Design dias [sic] pearls earrings pendants” with two preliminary sketches on tracing paper taped to the page. The final design was hand-painted on black cardstock for presentation to Duke.
Doris Duke wore her stunning David Webb diamond and pearl earrings often, and at New York society events they impressed peers and members of the press alike. In October 1968, the social columnist Earl Wilson wrote that he had been “entranced” by the earrings when Duke wore them to a party in the famed Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. He asked Mrs. Jock McLain [sic] what they were. She replied “Fakes, like mine . . .” When Duke herself was asked, she corrected Mrs. McLean. According to the columnist, “Miss Duke said the large gold and diamond earrings were not fakes, but from David Webb, meaning the best.”
Understanding the look and function of component pieces is a necessary first step in any complex design process. Just as David Webb used drawings to wrestle with and then present the reworking of a diamond bracelet into a brooch, NRF architects would document and then experiment with the application of original carved details in restoration projects. This drawing shows decorative carving and posts from a staircase in the ca. 1790 Potter House, which originated in Connecticut and came to NRF itself in pieces prior to being rebuilt at Prescott Farm (Middletown, RI) in the mid 1980s.
For Doris Duke, restoring the colonial character of Newport sometimes meant recreating whole streetscapes where original buildings had long ago disappeared. In this drawing, staff architect Richard Long has proposed replacing a 20th-century commercial cinderblock building with two 18th-century houses that had originated in other parts of New England and were being stored in pieces by the Newport Restoration Foundation.
This presentation drawing would have been first of a series presented to Doris Duke by David Webb as potential options for repurposing a diamond bracelet that Duke's mother, Nanaline, had given her in 1949. The largest of the stones, a pear-shaped diamond of close to 10 carats, had been a gift to Nanaline from Doris Duke's father, the industrialist James Buchanan Duke. At the same time that Duke was commissioning this brooch in late 1957, she was preparing to give her family's Manhattan mansion to New York University and relocating its contents, including an extensive collection of fine art, to Rough Point.