“Esther Ferguson had both great taste and an independent sense of collecting,” says Nancy Blount, Leland Little’s Jewelry and Textiles Director. “She especially liked modern and modernistic designers,” and was a collector of the jewelry of the famed New York designer Christopher Walling. Pieces by the precocious Walling, who began studying and making jewelry at age eight and has an abalone pearl named for him, have adorned such notables in society and the arts as Queen Noor of Jordan, Elizabeth Taylor, and the American Artist Jasper Johns—people who “could have had any designer they wanted,” Blount says, and chose Walling, whose work has appeared in dozens of books and museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Ferguson’s four Walling creations in our Fall Quarterly Auction are “such exciting statement pieces,” Blount says. Bold in both design and scale, they include two suites, “Ridged Logic” and “Ridged Havemeyer,” both in gold and ebony; a necklace of eye-grabbingly large tumbled rock crystal; and Walling’s signature pearls: a pair of 18-karat gold and Tahitian pearl earrings. “She liked chunky,” Blount notes of Ferguson’s taste, “and she really wore it well.” The Walling pieces clearly reflect her overall style. As Blount puts it: “Have fewer pieces of jewelry, but really good pieces.”
Ferguson’s striking collection of Walling jewelry naturally illustrates the advice that we at Leland Little often give to our collecting clients, which Blount concisely articulates: “Buy what brings you joy.” Esther Ferguson’s collection of Walling pieces “blends in with her overall style as a collector,” Blount says, which tended toward the modern in art as it did in jewelry. “She wore pieces that suited her identity,” and those pieces impart a strong sense of Ferguson’s persona and energy. “Looking at the art she collected and seeing this jewelry,” Blount says, “it makes sense.”