Vintage Set, 1965

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Winifred Mason Chenet (1918 – 1993) is recognized as a pioneering Black jewelry designer. Many consider her the first commercial Black jeweler in the United States. She was born in Brooklyn, NY. An exceptional student, Mason earned a bachelors degree in English Literature and a masters degree in teaching from NYU. After teaching crafts for several years through the Junior Achievement program, she was awarded a Rosenwald Fund grant. The grant provided her with the resources to go to Haiti, where she created jewelry that paid homage to the spiritual and cultural aspects of the island. Upon returning to the U.S., her jewelry sales began to take off. Most of Mason’s jewelry pieces were made of copper. She never repeated a design, making each one of her pieces one-of-a-kind originals.

Several major retailers, including Lord and Taylor and Bloomingdales, featured her designs.e. She also opened her own jewelry shop in the mid-1940’s. As her pieces gained popularity, she took on employees and apprentices. Most of her works were created in Greenwich Village in New York and in Haiti, where she maintained a residence with her Haitian-born husband. 

Even with the acclaim and recognition she received during the 1940s and 50s, very little information was documented about her life. Some claimed that Mason had an “attitude.” Could her “attitude” have been misunderstood? Maybe what she had was confidence and standards. 

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