Never Heard of Her: Marie Zimmerman

Metalsmith Marie Zimmermann had a Midas touch.

Metalsmith Marie Zimmermann had a Midas touch.

Metalsmithing is an unexpected career path for an heiress to take, but Marie Zimmermann was anything but conventional. Born and raised in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn, Zimmermann flouted her dad’s desire for her to pursue medicine and popped over to Pratt Institute instead to study metalsmithing, an interest she’s said to have developed through childhood fishing and shooting on the Delaware family farm.

Bejeweled daggers, gold-plated centerpieces, intricate necklaces, silver and bronze sculpture and even a mausoleum for leading New York suffragist Annie Tinker are just a few of the things that kept Zimmerman busy over the next 20 years. And judging by a 1926 review in the Brooklyn Eagle, Zimmermann was right on to disappoint her dad and go boho.

“...Marie Zimmermann is perhaps the most versatile artist in the country,” the paper declared. “She is a sculptress, a painter, a goldsmith and a silversmith, a cabinet maker, a wood carver, a jeweler -- even a blacksmith…There is hardly a beautiful thing which human hands can make that Miss Zimmermann hasn’t made.”

Bling, according to Marie Zimmermann. (Image: Studio International)

Bling, according to Marie Zimmermann. (Image: Studio International)

In fact, the article went on, her work emulated Renaissance craftsmen so well that at an exhibit Zimmerman overheard a guy mansplaining to his lady companion that an ivory box they were looking at must’ve been an heirloom. But nope. It had only left Zimm’s studio the day before.

Though now recognized as a major figure of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, Zimmermann preferred to keep a low-profile. After 20 years and scant commercial success, she and her partner and screenwriter Ruth Allen moved to the Delaware countryside that originally inspired her craft.

“Yes, I am a craftsman,” Zimmermann told the Brooklyn Eagle back in 1926. “It took me 25 years, with each day of them filled with 10 or 12 hours of work.”