A few steps inside the shop, you will discover one of the wonders of Helen Winnemore’s: Ed Levin Jewelry. Ed Levin Jewelry has earned a place of honor through our 50+ years of partnership and from the studio’s ceaseless ability to handcraft contemporary, high-quality jewelry. Wrought in sterling silver or 14 karat gold, this jewelry has adorned our customers across the generations. The respective bodies of work of Ed Levin and Helen Winnemore were woven together over decades. We value this rich relationship and history, read on to learn more about Ed Levin’s creative journey and relationship with our shop.
The diversity and richness of the natural world and all of the peoples who have inhabited it will always inspire both art and jewelry. The connections are not necessarily direct or obvious… Nevertheless our present is still connected to the earth forms and ancestor creations that abound and still touch us.
Ed Levin (1921-2008)
Ed Levin’s career in jewelry was born out of his desire to create modern jewelry as a gift for his mother around the end of WWII. At that time, most fine jewelry was of very traditional design, and the costs were inaccessible to the average customer. Levin studied fine arts at Columbia University, Alfred University, the New School and the Barnes Foundation and spent a year learning from a Florentine master jeweler while living in Buenos Aires. His New York Times obituary describes him as “an artist, craftsperson, jeweler, painter, sculptor, ceramist, and inventor of machines, tools and processes to enhance creativity in jewelry-making.” Ed Levin began creating contemporary designs in 1948 and founded Ed Levin Jewelry in 1950. He worked with his wife Ruth on the stove top in their New York apartment, and traveled throughout the New England area, selling his work to college students.
Helen Winnemore and Ed Levin
So how did Helen Winnemore’s come into the picture?
In the 1960’s, Levin realized that if he wanted to make good jewelry more accessible, he would need assistance. So he began to train other craftspeople to make his designs, and created a system to recreate his work which he called “job cards”. Each job card outlined step-by-step directions to make a specific piece of jewelry. Any special tools that were needed were included in a kit with the job card along with a model of the piece that Levin himself created. Through this process he was able to transition from a craftsman to a unique manufacturer, with each piece still created by hand, but in a higher volume. Some of his job cards and tools which he designed are still used in the production of Ed Levin Jewelry. This process allowed him to step into the wholesale market, which is where Helen came in as one of the first buyers of his work!
The details of exactly how their acquaintance began have been lost to history, but we conjecture that they could have been associated in a couple of ways. First, Helen was part of Swarthmore College Peace Collection, an organization to protect conscientious objectors during WWII, and Ed Levin himself was a conscientious objector. Second, Helen traveled annually to the Rhinebeck Crafts Festival in New York, where Levin resided. However their association may have begun, it began a partnership that has endured over 50 years and continues to this day.
Ed Levin passed away in 2008 but his legacy and the relationship established with Helen Winnemore’s endures.
The successor of what is now known as E. L. Designs is Peter Tonjes, who began studying jewelry making at 12 years old during an after school class. By the time he was in high school, he was making and selling his own designs. He studied design in England and then earned a degree in metal work from SUNY New Paltz. He was then hired by Ed Levin to manage the studio’s production. Peter’s responsibilities within the company grew over the next thirty years while his design vision and quest for perfection influenced every aspect of the company. He was ultimately appointed President in 2004 and purchased the company in 2012. Tonjes now collaborates with primary designer Cindy Cook to create new contemporary jewelry designs, which are a prominent feature of Helen Winnemore’s offering today.