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Metal of Honor

Marilyn Monroe cooed, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." Audrey Hepburn donned sunglasses, pearls, and the perfect black dress for Breakfast at Tiffany's. Even Madonna's "Material Girl" video was swathed in jeweled excess.

While American pop culture gives a nod to jewelry as the essence of style and display of wealth, other cultures take a different approach. The "Silver: From Fetish to Fashion" examines the role of silver around the world, with pieces on display from Africa, India, and China.

"Historically, silver was more valuable than gold, particularly since it was used for healing and magic, and to make items to honor ancestors," says Katie Anderson, the museum's executive director. One example is the 10-inch-long Padung-Padung, which is worn through the ear attached to the wearer's headpiece. "It's adjusted up or down to mimic the status of marital relations," says Anderson. We're guessing that would make it easier to identify who might be a desperate housewife.

And while sorority girls everywhere clamor for the silver Return to Tiffany necklace and bracelets, other cultures create fertility symbols with the precious metal. Known as fetishes, these objects vary in symbolism and meaning from culture to culture. It's religious iconography through jewelry, Anderson says: "Each culture's silver can tell us about the people who made them and who wore them."

May 10-April 30, 2007


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