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All This Beauty for Families at VMFA’s Schlumberger Exhibition

There’s a song by The Weepies called “All This Beauty,” and when I toured Schlumberger, the dazzling jewelry exhibit at VMFA, it played in my head on repeat:

“All this beauty
You might have to close your eyes
And slowly open wide…”

The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger recently opened, and its brilliance is surreal. Jean Schlumberger (pronounced SCHLUM-ber-zhay) created jewelry and accessories that transformed twentieth-century fashion. Rachel Lambert Mellon (1910-2014), a noted horticulturalist, philanthropist, and longtime VMFA supporter, collected it.

Artist-jeweler Schlumberger (1907-1987) began his career crafting costume jewelry for the French surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s, before heading up his own private salon at New York’s Tiffany & Co., beginning in the 1950s. The exhibition presents Schlumberger’s work in a series of galleries, each focused on a specific theme related to the artist-designer.

As other-worldly as this collection is, with its 142 pieces of breathtaking bling displayed over six rooms, it is also immediately relatable. So relatable, that Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA’s Paul Mellon curator and head of the department of European art, shared a story about a guest who once reached for a necklace from this priceless jewelry, fully intending to try it on.

The ready-to-wear gallery features a selection of bracelets, earrings, rings, and accessories from Rachel Mellon’s private collection. These display cases (there’s no trying on these items!) feature brilliantly colored bangles with Pauline enameling and highly sculptural brooches that illustrate Schlumberger’s fascination with floral and vegetal motifs.

In the gallery dedicated to underwater fantasies, you’ll be in awe of the flora and fauna of the sea, including whimsical mermaids, and a cornerstone piece, Jellyfish, a brooch composed of translucent cabochon moonstones accented by small diamonds.

Schlumberger, who is known for his imaginative interpretations of botanical designs, shared this passion over a decades-long friendship and creative partnership with Rachel Mellon. Another gallery, features one-of-o-kind objects, including candlesticks, salt cellars, and obelisks that were made specifically for Rachel Mellon.

The in-gallery sketching studio is the perfect outlet for creative types.

In the middle of “All This Beauty” is an interactive sketching station. Schlumberger’s works began as graphite sketchs on tracing paper, so VMFA visitors of all ages are encouraged to create their own designs with pencils, inspired by the works of art in the exhibition, as well as reproductions of Schlumberger’s drawings.

There is also a take-and-make handout, so kids can craft their own bracelet, adorned with butterflies, another favorite of Rachel Mellon’s.

Like The Art of the Flower, which graced the galleries of VMFA two year ago, this exhibit is made for families. Kids of all ages appreciate sparkly things, and mom, dad, and the grands, will be able to stroll the galleries without being peppered with questions about materials or artist intent. Organized by VMFA, The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger was curated by Mitchell Merling with Kristie Couser.  This exclusive exhibition is free to the visiting public, and will be on display though June 18. Visit VMFA for details.

Listen to All This Beauty by The Weepies if you have a minute.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.

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