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Brooch - American Sidewalk Brooch

American Sidewalk Brooch

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Philadelphia (made)

  • Date:

    1999 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Yager, Jan (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oxidised sterling silver, pressed and soldered

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 45, shelf B, box 3

'American Sidewalk Brooch' is based on the Purslane plant with its dense network of stems and leaves, and it is part of the 'City Flora / City Flotsam' collection by American jeweller Jan Yager, exhibited at the V&A in 2001.

In this group of work Jan Yager concentrated on the harsh urban environment around her studio in Philadelphia. Focussing on the pavements, or 'sidewalks', the Flora element explored the determined survival of hardy city plants while the Flotsam gave a darker picture of the endemic use of drugs and guns. Although many elements are distinctively American - chicory flowers and purslane are not familiar sights on British city streets - there is a universality to the problems, the glimmers of beauty and the sadness that her work evokes, and it comments sensitively on inner-city life today.

Physical description

Brooch of dark grey silver, with six leaf-covered branches curving out asymmetically from the centre. According to the artist it is made up of 67 elements, with 103 solder joints.

Place of Origin

Philadelphia (made)


1999 (made)


Yager, Jan (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Oxidised sterling silver, pressed and soldered

Marks and inscriptions

'© Jan Yager / 1999 / Sterling
Makers marks; reverse of brooch, on large leaf, lower right hand side; engraved


Height: 8 cm, Width: 8.6 cm, Depth: 0.9 cm

Object history note

The brooch was described by the artist as a 'personal favorite (the one I chose to wear most)'

Historical significance: Jan Yager writes: 'From 1981 - 1989 in the USA I was widely recognized for my use of high and low tonnage hydraulic presses. The method of hollow construction I employed (two-forms soldered together) (research begun in 1979 for my Master's Thesis) was used to make earrings, brooches and beaded necklaces. As the result of national exposure through shows and the media much interest was generated in the process among my peers. Over the years with the increased availability of presses and workshops teaching this method my work began to look less startlingly innovative and I felt compelled to stop and re-direct. The City Flora/ City Flotsam Series exhibited in the V&A is the direct result of that decision. I consider the Purslane Brooch to be an important "transitional piece". It still employs the hollow forms made with the hydraulic press (the fuller leaves), but in a size and quantity yet to be imitated.'

Of her choice of the purslane plant she writes: 'Purslane at first glance is an insignificant plant. Though I have found entire chapters devoted to its qualities in plant books. Whether one inch across or one foot tall it adapts by growing upright when possible and perfectly flat when it can't (especially when continually walked on). Regardless, it grows, flowers and seeds. A powerful testament to the forces of nature. A few years ago a friend invited me to he [sic] summer home in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Absolutely, none of the vegitation was familiar to me until we visited a Maya ruin. There among the ocean cliffs, lizards, and ruins I found purslane - and time and distance evaporated.'

Historical context note

Artist's Statement re City Flora/City Flotsam:

'I wanted this work to be rooted in history, yet undeniably of its place and time. After a wide search for inspiration, I narrowed my focus to the sidewalks outside my studio. For years I had turned a blind eye on these immediate surroundings. In an attempt to take a closer look, one day I decided to 'beachcomb' the area. I returned with broken bits of auto glass, paperclips, cigarette butts, a few spent bullet casings, and lots of colorful crack vials. City Flotsam - frighteningly tangible evidence of drugs, violence, and crime literally at my doorstep. It spoke of such immense tragedy to me, and it became the point of departure for this series.

Thankfully, this search also yielded the antidote. Nature's resilient beauty was also at my feet. City Flora - the often overlooked, much trampled upon, and increasingly non-native species growing insistently in vacant lots and from the cracks of sidewalks. I began to study the radiating geometry of dandelions, the penetrating delicacy of chicory blossoms, and the microscopic structures of seeding purslane. I marveled at nature's adaptive inventions and discovered that growth and decay are inseparably interwoven.
City Flotsam and City Flora present sharp contrasts - but reality is they are two sides of the same coin. Both are evidence of a long history of circuitous routes of trade. In 1682, Londoner William Penn secured use of the land around my studio - now called Philadelphia - from the Lenni Lenape. Three centuries hence, the descendants of these North American Indians, European colonists, African slaves and willing immigrants from around the world, continue to put down roots and lay claim to this land.
©Jan Yager, 2001'

Descriptive line

Brooch respresenting the purslane plant by Jan Yager, United States, 1999.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Rosolowski, Tacey. Intervening in Amnesia: Jan Yager's Mnemonic Adornment. Metalsmith. 21.1 Winter 2001.
Brown, Glen R. Jan Yager: Urban Stigmata. Ornament 23.2 Winter 1999

Production Note

Attribution note: Jan Yager describes this piece as 'the fourth 'purslane-type' brooch I have made over a seven year period. Each involved varying amounts of sawn, hollow pressed and soldered leaves, and various shapes of wire to fabricate the branches. Although they are of the same plant, each was made separately, changed, evolved and improved as I went along - thus I consider each "unique".'


Sterling silver



Subjects depicted



Metalwork; Jewellery

Production Type



Metalwork Collection

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