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Hubert Pickering Harmon

Hubert Pickering Harmon (1914? – 2001?) The words, irreverent, humorous and whimsical are often found alongside the name of this innovative painter, jewelry, and accessory designer. American born, in Highland Park, Illinois, Harmon was the son of Hubert Harmon, Sr., president of a Chicago coal company. His great uncle (Hubert Pickering) was a student of the artist, Homer Winslow.

Harmon studied at the Parsons School of Design in Paris. In January, 1940, he married divorcé, Louise (de Mocher) Frazier. Before his marriage, Harmon had lived in Paris and London where he designed fashions for Schiaparelli, Jean Patou, Elizabeth Arden, Marcel Rochas, and others. His design work ultimately took him to New York.

After the marriage, the newlyweds traveled to the Caribbean and Hawaii. In a 1941 letter written in Hawaii, “Adventures of Tarzan” author, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote: “Have met a young couple at the Niumalu who drop in for Contract [Bridge] or conversation quite often – Louise and Hubert Harmon. He has spent much of his life in France and England and consorted with royalty, nobility, and aristocracy; so he is very interesting. He is so well connected that he had the entree to the palaces, castles, and chateaux of many interesting people.”

In the early 1940’s, Harmon and his wife moved to Taxco, Mexico where he worked briefly in jewelry design from 1943 to 1948 before moving to Mexico City. His Taxco shop began as a small workshop of silversmiths that included, among others, noted craftsman, Felipe Martinez. The artisans he employed transformed Harmon’s unusual designs into metal. The pieces created during this period are rare, imaginative, and very collectible. In fact, some of Harmon’s work was included in the traveling exhibit, William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance.

Harmon’s hallmark was a pair of feet with wings. Among the jewelry pieces created by the talented designers in Harmon’s workshop were those that included expressive faces carved in amethyst quartz, onyx, and lapis for Harmon’s angel and mermaid designs. Louise encouraged Hubert and wore his designs.

Angels were a favorite Harmon motif. The winged feet on the back of Harmon’s brooches, earrings, and cufflinks represent “sleeping angels.” The feet that appear in conjunction with the wings symbolize forward movement. Harmon also favored stars, dolphins, mermaids, nymphs, and dogs, especially poodles. 

The couple left Taxco after living there for six months because of a “shooting incident in a bar.” From Taxco, they moved to their Mexico City townhouse.

Harmon’s partner in Taxco supervised the workshop and Harmon often visited Taxco with new designs. During Harmon’s Taxco years, only the most exclusive shops carried his work. Harmon’s designs are quite rare and highly sought-after because of the limited output and production.

In the 1950’s the Mexico City jewelry firm, Casa Maya, created copies of Harmon designs. Original Hubert Harmon jewelry was reproduced by Maya in less expensive brass and copper for the burgeoning tourist market. The pieces incorporated Harmon’s style and often featured geometric shapes, spots, dots, and spheres that were translated into underwater mine motifs. Hair pins, earrings, bracelets and belts have come to light in this naval “mine” style.

In the early 1950s, Harmon lived the life of a playboy flying between Europe and North America. Also during this time Harmon’s name appeared in Chicago gossip columns. They reported his creation of Poodlemania Atlas plates and glasses and anticipated an exhibit of Harmon’s poodle paintings to take place in New York City.

By the early 1970s, Harmon was active in the social scene in Ajijic, Mexico though without his wife. He was also part of its local art community and a founding member of the Clique Ajijic art group that arranged group exhibitions in several cities in Mexico for 3 or 4 years in the mid-1970s. That group included Tom Faloon, Synnove (Shaffer) Petterson, Todd (“Rocky”) Karns, Gail Michaels, Sid Schwartzman, John Peterson and Adolfo Riestra.

In the 1990s Harmon fell victim to a schemer who swindled him out of his valuable personal collection of silver. Harmon lived his last few years in extreme poverty at an old folks’ home in Chapala.

Hubert Harmon designs produced in Mexico City by Casa Maya do not surface very often. When they do, they command high prices because Harmon’s original silver pieces made in Taxco are even more difficult to find.

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