Francisco (Frank) Rebajes
Francisco (Frank) Rebajes (1905 – 1990) A native of the Dominican Republic and self-taught craftsman, Rebajes moved to New York City where set up shop in Greenwich Village as one of the first craft jewelers in that area. With practically no fluency in English, his first job in America was as a cafeteria worker.
After his marriage in 1932 and with little money to support himself and his new bride, a kind friend invited them to live in a basement. It was here that, using set of discarded plumbers’ tools, Rebajes created a collection of animals made from tin cans. He displayed these on an ironing board at the first outdoor show held in nearby Washington Square.
At that time, the director of the Whitney Museum was Juliana Force. She bought all of them and, with the money he received, Rebajes rented his first store at 182 West Fourth Street in the heart of the Village.
Around 1941, when Rebajes’ work had achieved a following after he exhibited large metal reliefs at the U.S. Pavilion during the 1939 New York World’s Fair, he hired Otto R. Bade, a self-taught silversmith from Nebraska. Upon Bade’s arrival in New York to visit the Fair, he realized he did not want to go into his family’s farming business. His job search amounted to answering one employment ad.
The interview was with Rebajes who told Otto he was looking for someone to take his studio art pieces and increase production capability. He asked Otto to “see what you can do” and gave Otto one of his favorite pieces, the “Ubangi Face” to examine.
At the end of that first day, Otto, to Rebajes’ amazement, had created some jigs and a process to mass produce Rebajes’ art. In just one day, Otto made one hundred perfect Ubangi Face sculptured pins. Rebajes quickly understood that he could now achieve his dream of providing wearable art to the public.
Rebajes is considered a master in the art of copper jewelry and craft. As foreman of Rebajes’ shops, Otto insured that Rebajes’ designs were artfully and masterfully produced. Frank and Otto became lifelong friends.
Rebajes’ work was inspired by both the antique and modern art of many diverse cultures. Though Rebajes name is known for copper art, Francisco Rebajes worked in many mediums including silver and gold.
Having achieved success by the early 1950’s, Rebajes opened a distinct and modern store on 5th Avenue at 37th street. He arranged the windows to be as artistic as the work he displayed in them. At this time, his jewelry was selling so well that he was mass producing it for stores all over America. He had a lower Manhattan workshop with a multitude of craftsmen making his designs.
Later on in life, Rebajes’ interests turned to sculpture more than jewelry. He based his works on theories of synchronicity and movement that resulted in the Mobius Strip. While creating these steel sculptures, he applied for patents in numerous countries. Ultimately, this resulted in his nomination for a French “Academy of Science” Prize.
In 1960, Otto purchased the business from Rebajes. With the resources that came with the purchase including the workshop, machinery, and catalog designs, the business went well until 1981 when Otto was held up and received a severe pistol whipping that left him in critical condition. After a long recuperation from his injuries, Otto and his wife moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania where Orb Silversmiths still produces fine jewelry.
Even into his 90’s, Otto still insures that the Rebajes hallmark carries on the traditions and craftsmanship that make Rebajes pieces famous and desirable. Rebajes continues to be the only designers and makers of Rebajes, and the Otto R. Bade (ORB) jewelry lines.
In 1988, Rebajes’ beloved wife passed away. Financial issues that arose from the care she needed before that forced Rebajes to sell all his tools and machinery. In 1990, Rebajes presented his Mobius work at MIT where, according to his niece, Peri Shaw who arranged the MIT Symposium, it received an exceptional response. However, for reasons no one will ever know, Rebajes returned to his hotel and ended his life using the acid he employed to make his metal art.
Rebajes’ lines of wearable art now includes sterling silver dog charms that are the only ones approved by the American Kennel Club (AKC), Brazilian Mask pendants and brooches, bracelets, cuffs and cufflinks, necklaces, and pins.
Many of Rebajes’ creations are displayed in museums around the world including the Smithsonian Institution. When you own Rebajes, you own a piece of Wearable Art.