Everyone asks Elsie Michie the same question: "Have you worn every piece of jewelry in your collection?"

Finally, she answers.

"Yes, I do wear every piece of jewelry in my collection," she says. "And now, when I look for them, they're not there."

That's because a large part of her collection is on exhibit at the LSU Museum of Art.

"Adore | Adorn: The Elsie Michie Contemporary Jewelry Collection" is showcasing through Oct. 6 more than 100 pieces from her collection. 

As she walks through the galleries, Michie's expression is a mix of excitement and sadness. She's overwhelmed by the beauty of the museum's presentation, but confesses she misses every piece in the display.

Her enthusiasm returns when Michie talks about how excited she is to have the opportunity to share her jewelry, these wearable works of art, with others.

Michie, associate dean of the LSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences, started collecting art jewelry in the 1980s after inheriting from her mother some money, something, she remembers, that never made her mother happy.

"So, I wanted to do something with the money that would make me happy," Michie says.

Michie loved art, but she didn't want to collect paintings. Art jewelry appealed to her, because it could be exhibited both in and outside her home.

Living in New Orleans at the time, Michie met jewelry maker Thomas Mann, whose focus was more about design and less about precious metals or stones.

"It's a form of self expression," Michie says of the jewelry. "My students were asking for me one day in the office, and they described me as the lady with 'the weight around her neck.'"

Michie laughs at the description because it's true. Some of her necklaces are supersized. 

And though the jewelry is meant to be worn, the pieces are more than mere adornments. 

They are art.

And they come from artists around the globe.

The pieces reflect Peter Chang's high-voltage color, the luminosity of Anoush Waddington's style, Mary Lee Hu's woven wire and the "lost and found" of the theatrical brooches of Robin Kranitzky and Kim Overstreet.

Other artists include Ramona Solberg, Laurie Hall and Kiff Slemmons, who, with others, have been called members of the Northwest School of Jewelers, an influential jewelry movement of eclectic design.

And, while Michie's collection has the pedigree of fine art, she's open to finding pieces just about anywhere. 

On this day, she's wearing a necklace that looks like a beaded snake loosely coiled around her neck. It came from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. 

It's well crafted and noticeable, and that's the point — it's art to be appreciated.

One of her most memorable pieces is a zipper necklace she discovered in an advertisement in an art magazine. She called the gallery, but it had already been sold.

The buyer was a comedian named Robin Williams. Yes, that Robin Williams

So she asked the gallery if the artist, Kiff Slemmons, could make another.

"Robin Williams was the only other person who had a version of that necklace," she says. "To be able to wear this jewelry and carry the artists' stories is pretty cool."


Adore | Adorn: The Elsie Michie Contemporary Jewelry Collection

An exhibit of art jewelry 

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 6.

WHERE: LSU Museum of Art in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St.

ADMISSION: $5, age 13 and older. Free for ages 12 and younger, museum members and university students with ID. Free on the first Sunday of the month.

ALSO: 

  • "Third Thursday" program — 6 p.m. Aug. 15, featuring craft beer, jewelry-making and ceramics sculpture. $10, $5 for museum members and students/faculty with ID
  • "Material Exploration," a jewelry workshop with Thomas Mann — 1 p.m. Aug. 24
  • Free First Sunday — Sept. 1, featuring a gallery talk at 2 p.m., and a jewelry sale with the LSU School of Art Sculpture Club from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Reception — 2 p.m. Oct. 6 with a lecture by Elsie Michie

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com