Envelopes get pushed when art dealer Donna Schneier is involved.
The Manalapan resident’s latest coup is an enviable exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City titled “Unique by Design.” It will become part of the permanent collection.
“It’s really cool,” said Schneier, noting the exhibit will be curated as 20th-century art, not jewelry. “This is art. It just happens to be art-to-wear.”
She donated the 100-plus pieces she has collected throughout the decades to the museum in 2007, the year she left the Big Apple and moved to South Florida. The pieces were designed by 88 artists from 17 countries and date mostly from the 1960s and ’70s.
“Everything was revolutionary at that time, even jewelry,” Schneier said. “Big, bold, dangerous. I thought it was an amazing envelope to push because traditional jewelry has always been associated with precious metals. If you think about other cultures, that’s not true. Jewelry has always been simply something which denoted your stature in life.”
Schneier will make another mark at The Met when the museum publishes a book to accompany the collection featuring 150 photographs and an essay written by metalsmith editor Suzanne Ramljak.
“That city gave me so much,” said the former New Yorker, whose company Donna Schneier Fine Arts specializes in post-World War II ceramics, glass and sculpture. “That city changed me totally as a human being and offered me incredible opportunities. I wanted to give something back.”
Closer to home, Schneier chairs Bijoux, a daring art-jewelry sale that raises money for the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach. This year’s sale took place at the end of February.
“It turned into a wonderful, exciting, educational, glamorous event,” Schneier said. “The message is that there are other forms of body decorations other that diamonds and pearls.”
— Amy Woods
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A. Miami Beach. In the ’50s, Miami Beach was similar to Palm Beach today — a quiet, elegant lifestyle but with lots of “sparkle plenty.” You can take the girl out of Miami Beach but not Miami Beach out of the girl.
Q. How/when did you begin collecting jewelry?
A. I always collected some form of art jewelry, like art-deco jewelry, Bakelite — a plastic product — and Matisse Renoir copper and enamel costume jewelry of the ’40s to early ’60s, based on the modernist art forms. I encountered contemporary art jewelry on a trip to London in the mid-’80s.
Q. Have you had other careers? What were the highlights?
A. I have been an art dealer since 1966, but left the art world for 15 years to import gold jewelry from Italy to large-volume discount users in the United States. The business, Una Donna, was the country’s third-largest gold importer. It was sold in 1991. I couldn’t wait to return to the art world.
Q. What advice do you have for those pursuing a career in the fine arts today?
A. If you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life.
Q. Tell us about your exhibit at the Norton Museum.
A. The event at the Norton is a fundraiser for the museum called Bijoux. It is a four-day event in its third year. We invite artist from all over the world who make art jewelry their career to participate.
Q. How did you choose to make your home in Manalapan?
A. New York City — that routine was just too much for us. We decided we loved Florida, we’d lived in Florida before, so we decided we’re going to stay in Florida.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in Manalapan?
A. It reminds me of growing up in Miami Beach — a safe, beautiful place to live. You can easily get to any cultural activity, and shopping, restaurants, tennis, golf ... what could be better? Everytime I look out my window and I see water — which is such a sedative — I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live here.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?
A. “I ask not for a lighter burden, just broader shoulders.” (A Jewish proverb.)
Q. Have you had mentors in your life — individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A. My father, Dr. Irwin Makovsky; and my beloved art-history professor, Abe Chanin. My father was probably the most ethical man I’ve met in my life. He was a physician. He was deeply religious. He said to us, “I never want to see your name in the newspaper because you’ve done something wrong.” Ha!
My art-history professor was a great inspiration, and he knew that I wanted to collect, and so he would say to me, “Always buy what you can afford and pay it out.” That’s what I did.
Q. If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A. Meryl Streep. I think she’s the epitome of the modern woman. She has a career. She has a family. I used to see her up in the New York playhouses with her children. She’s intelligent. She’s compassionate. She’s all the things that I hope I am.