The woman above is of course the eminently recognizable Babe Paley, as photographed by Richard Avedon. What does she have to do with Mrs. Harvey Cushing and the bracelet pictured below?
Sifting through the Seaman Schepps archive of 5,000+ renderings is like taking a journey through time. As was the custom, many of the renderings bear the names of the clients for whom the pieces were specially designed. Many of the names I recognize as prominent New Yorkers of the time–such as Mrs. Alfred Knopf, Mrs. John Astor, Mrs. Carole Brandt. My inner sleuth kicks in: Who were these women, and why were they drawn to Schepps?
Just last week, I came upon two renderings–variations on a bracelet designed around a large emerald-cut lavender gem. On the main rendering, the familiar inky scrawl in Mr. Schepps’ own hand spelled out “Mrs. H Cushing”. From my former life as a neurobiologist, I knew immediately that the rendering was for the wife of prominent neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey W. Cushing (1869-1939), pioneer of brain surgery who was trained at Yale and Harvard Medical School. Her name was Katherine Stone Crowell. A cursory search on the internet revealed very little information on Katherine, other than that she was a childhood friend from a socially prominent family in Cleveland, OH.
Knowing Mr. Schepps, I might hazard to guess that the central element on the bracelet could be removed and converted to a brooch. And if I had to guess which version Katherine chose based on the fashion at the time, I would say the latter.
What is not known about Katherine Stone Crowell Cushing can be made up by the fame of her three daughters, who all married rich and prominent men of the time…
Betsey Cushing became a Roosevelt, and then a Whitney; Minnie became an Astor. But the most famous and beautiful daughter, Barbara Cushing, who first married Standard Oil heir Stanley Grafton Mortimer II, and then CBS founder William Paley, became the revered fashion icon of all time: Babe Paley. Babe, needless to say, requires no introduction. All you have to do is to look at the stunning portraits of her taken by the world’s foremost photographers of the era:
As Truman Capote said about his friend,
“Mrs. P. had only one fault: She was perfect; otherwise, she was perfect.”
So naturally, my next questions would be, “Might Babe Paley have inherited the piece when her mother passed? Where is that bracelet now?” We may never know.