Betty Cooke: The Circle and the LineFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 5, 2020

Contact: Gabriella Souza, Communications Manager
[email protected], (410) 547-9000, 277

Baltimore, MD—The first major museum retrospective of the work of internationally renowned Baltimore jeweler Betty Cooke opens at the Walters Art Museum on Saturday, September 26.

Betty Cooke: The Circle and the Line explores the themes and expressions in Cooke’s jewelry practice and spans the period from her earliest designs in the 1940s and ’50s to the present. The exhibition features over 160 works from private collectors, as well as loans from Cranbrook, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Cooper Hewitt, and many of Cooke’s works from her own collection. In addition to her jewelry, the exhibition includes photography, drawings, and design sketches, and explores how the Walters’ historic collections inspired Cooke from a young age.

Cooke is a legend in the world of modernist jewelry. During her 70-year career, Cooke has remained true to a minimalist style that has won her awards, the devotion of loyal patrons, and representation in museum collections.

“Betty Cooke’s storied career is a testament to both her incredible artistry and her fearless attitude toward seizing opportunities,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “This exhibition is the perfect opportunity both to demonstrate how living artists provide new perspectives on our collection and to celebrate one of Baltimore’s most inspiring and venerable women in the arts.”

Cooke grew up in Baltimore and remembers visiting the Walters since childhood; the medieval armor collection was a particular favorite. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she also taught for 22 years. Her first working location was a studio, showroom, and residence on Tyson Street, located a few blocks from the Walters.

In 1965, Cooke, with her husband and business partner William O. Steinmetz (d. 2016), moved from Tyson Street to the Village of Cross Keys in Baltimore’s northern suburbs, where they opened The Store Ltd. Over the years, her jewelry has been featured in Vogue magazine and has received two Diamond Today awards from DeBeers. In 1996, she was made a Fellow of the American Craft Council.

“Betty Cooke’s work has not only been influential to the world of jewelry and design, but her approach to entrepreneurship, especially at a time when a woman jeweler running her own store was practically unheard of, establishes her as a trailblazer in the field,” said Eleanor Hughes, Deputy Director of Art & Program and organizing curator for the exhibition. “Her jewelry demonstrates a consistent design approach to materials and composition that makes her work instantly recognizable and at the same time endlessly variable and inventive.”

Below the surface of Cooke’s works are deeply personal, witty, and emotional meanings. She is inspired by the natural world, especially animals and birds, as well as kinetic forms, and uses materials as varied as metal tubing, enamel, wood, and gemstones. Cooke’s strong sense of composition underlies all of her work and is based on her conviction that with “a circle and a line, you can make anything.”

“Betty Cooke is one of the country’s most innovative jewelers,” said Jeannine Falino, guest curator of the exhibition. “Over the course of her career, she has created works that are faithful to the tenets of good design, the basis of which is the axiom ‘less is more.’ Her works are memorable for their utter simplicity and cool sophistication.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication, with an essay by Jeannine Falino and reflections by a number of friends and collectors. The Circle and the Line: The Jewelry of Betty Cooke is being published by the Walters Art Museum in association with D Giles Limited.

Betty Cooke: The Circle and the Line will be on view September 26 through January 3, 2021. Admission to the museum and its special exhibitions is free.

Image: Betty Cooke, Necklace, c. 1940s-50s. © Betty Cooke.

The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5000 BCE to the 21st century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.

Admission to the museum is free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles St., north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For general museum information, call 410-547-9000 or visit

Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible through the combined generosity of individual members and donors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.