Step out of the 21st century and into the timeless world of rubies, diamonds, amethysts and pearls with local author Cheríe Burns, biographer of Taos' very own fairytale princess, Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers, as Burns explores the secret caverns of fine art jewelry in search of the quixotic starfish brooch.
Burns is launching her new book, "Diving for Starfish - The Jeweler, The Actress, The Heiress and One of the World's Most Alluring Pieces of Jewelry" (St. Martin's Press, 2018) Wednesday (March 21), 7 p.m., at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. Tickets are $8, $6 for SOMOS members. At the event, which is presented by the Harwood and SOMOS, she plans to talk about and read from her new book.
At least three of these large, hand-sized fine art jewelry brooches were created in Paris, France, about 80 years ago, two of which were reportedly bought by Hollywood grand dame Claudette Colbert and fashion maven Millicent Rogers. From there the seas of jewelry intrigue deepen unfathomably.
In "Diving for Starfish," Burns becomes the investigative reporter who embarks on a hunt for Millicent Rogers' starfish brooch, almost as a lark, a relative innocent who is hooked by a fleeting glance of Millicent's brooch (or so she was told) at a New York book launch party for her Rogers biography. It turns out that was a fateful glance, indeed, as Burns describes it, limned with magic:
"The starfish looked real enough to climb out of the case and march up my arm … It was intimidating and gorgeous. The etiquette of touching such a valuable, large piece of jewelry seemed unclear to me. Would my fingers smudge it? Its purple and red stones throbbed under the bright showroom lights. I almost wondered if it would feel hot."
Haunted by the desire to see the brooch again, Burns simply wants to know more about it: who owned what, how many and where they are they now? These questions unwittingly throw her into the adamantly dark passageways of secret jewelry stratagems that thrive, essentially unseen, even today.
This first-person account of her journey through salons of high fashion in New York, Paris, Hollywood and London is a two- or three-day escape so magical you'll rub your eyes and wonder what rabbit hole Burns, and by association you the reader, fell into.
"My path to Taos was somewhat convoluted," she explained in an email, adding parenthetically, "Don't forget, I went to high school and college outside Denver, so I am sort of a Westerner. While living in New York, my husband and I came to Taos to ski with our children." They moved to Taos after finding life in New York and Nantucket "a mistake. Too isolated, too conventional, too gray in the winter."
Taos supports the writer's life, she avows. "It is friendly to creativity and doesn't ask for conformism. That kind of freedom, natural beauty and spirit are very attractive. All roads seem to at least pass through Taos sooner or later."
Burns is the author of the Millicent Rogers' biography "Searching for Beauty" (St. Martin's Press, 2011), along with "The Great Hurricane of 1938" (Grove/ Atlantic, 2005), and "Stepmotherhood: How to Survive Without Feeling Frustrated, Left Out or Wicked" (Three Rivers Press, 1985). Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, People and Glamour magazines, among others.
Burns, a SOMOS board member from 2005-2017, lives in downtown Taos with husband Dick Duncan and their blue heeler, Murdoch. To see her discuss "Diving for Starfish," visit: vimeo.com/257182463. For more information, call SOMOS at (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org or CherieBurns.com.