Thomas Mann

(1947– )

In the vanguard of American art jewelry design, Thomas Mann is credited as being among the first to focus on the idea and content, rather than precious metals and gemstones, in jewelry design. He created this "Nest Hand Pin" in 2007, with silver, carved acrylic, brass and bronze. Learn more »

Thomas Mann is an internationally recognized jewelry maker, sculptor, designer, and craft instructor who has lived and worked in New Orleans since 1987. He opened Thomas Mann Design and Gallery I/O on Magazine Street in 1988. Mann was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1947. He opened his first silversmith shops in the late 1960s — including the Golden Owl in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1967, and Solar Wind in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, in 1969 — and was exhibiting actively at American craft fairs during the early 1970s. Reflecting Mann’s national profile and his considerable influence, Lloyd E. Herman, former director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery, wrote in 2001 that Mann “has been in the vanguard of American art jewelry design for nearly three decades. His compositions were among the first to focus not on the intrinsic value of precious metals and gemstones, but rather on idea and content.”

Like many of the seminal craft figures of his generation, including Albert Paley and Wendell Castle, Mann’s creative vision encompasses a variety of media and materials, commonly crossing the boundaries between art and craft, between jewelry and sculpture. In response to the poet Andrei Codrescu, who interviewed Mann about those who had influenced his work, the artist replied: “The Dadaists and surrealists. Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, Alexander Calder.” During the 1960s and 1970s, while working in small craft shops and traveling on the expanding craft fair circuit across the United States, Mann explored the parameters of an expanding counterculture then evident in America. At the same time he established his own approach and style in combining the worlds of art, craft, and business.

He is perhaps best known for his Techno-Romantic jewelry, which evolved during the 1980s. The foundation of his new approach was based upon his discovery of caches of diverse and unique materials in Florida warehouses. “The stuff came from the detritus of the space program, bits and pieces from Cape Canaveral, machine parts, old linotypes. I put these together into a new system of jewelry.” He also developed production techniques and distribution systems beyond his retail stores, and incorporated his “found” objects, producing an evolving range of jewelry and decorative objects. In recent years, the scope of his work has expanded to include items on a residential and architectural scale, as well as concepts for public sculptural projects.

Reflecting his profile in a growing number of national and international exhibitions, as well as the increasing production and sale of his work through a variety of national galleries, the full range of Mann’s accomplishment was documented in the publication thomas mann, Metal Artist (2001). A radical change was brought to him and his work in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and heavily affected Mann, his properties, and the audiences who had been his base of support in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. In response, as he rebuilt his galleries and business, he struck out in a new artistic direction, creating a series of sculptural wall panels that became hisStorm Cycle, which are the subject of the publication Thomas Mann: Storm Cycle—An Artist Responds to Hurricane Katrina (2006). These works were exhibited at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, Washington, and traveled to other museums nationally. The exhibition demonstrated Mann’s creative response to the hurricane, as well as the range of his expanded aesthetic vision. In 2011, Mann was featured in the PBS documentary series Craft in America. Later that year he published a new technical manual, Metal Artist’s Workbench: Demystifying the Jeweler’s Saw.


Cite This Entry

Chicago Manual of Style

Gruber, PhD, J. Richard. "Thomas Mann." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published September 12, 2012.

MLA Style

Gruber, PhD, J. Richard. "Thomas Mann." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 12 Sept 2012. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.

Suggested Reading

Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?

Catalani, Stefano. Thomas Mann and Michael Monroe, Thomas Mann: Storm Cycle—An Artist Responds to Hurricane Katrina. Bellevue, WA: Bellevue Arts Museum, 2006.

Codrescu, Andrei, Lloyd E. Herman, and Thomas Mann. thomas mann, Metal Artist. Madison, WI: Guild Publishing, 2001.

Mann, Thomas. Metal Artist’s Workbench: Demystifying the Jeweler’s Saw. North Light Books, 2011.


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