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Spotsylvania man amasses a comprehensive collection of Art Nouveau jewelry boxes

 Since 1988, Pody has collected 678 Art Nouveau jewelry boxes.
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Date published: 9/10/2007

Just back from the Peace Corps in October 1988, Steven Pody didn't have many possessions or much money.

But at a Goodwill store near his hometown of Wilmington, Del., he spotted a silver-plated pewter jewelry box that made him say "Wow!" He bought it for $5.

Pody was newly engaged and waiting for his bride to arrive that December on semester break from a teaching job in Greece.

They'd met four years earlier as volunteers on an archaeological dig in Israel, then traveled together around Africa after he finished his Peace Corps assignment in Zaire.

Between the time he bought that box and his bride's wintertime arrival, Pody had two missions.

He looked for a job in Washington. And he learned all he could about his $5 box and started acquiring similar pieces.

Today, the Podys' suburban Spotsylvania County foyer, music parlor and dining room are practically a museum of Art Nouveau jewelry boxes.

Lighted cabinets display 678 boxes, each cataloged by date, place and price of purchase.

There are early examples from France, where the style developed, and representative pieces from each of the seven American companies that popularized the style in this country. Other boxes come from Germany, England, Austria, Argentina and Russia.

As avidly as he's collected the jewelry boxes, Pody has researched Art Nouveau from its beginnings in the late 19th century to its end in 1914 with the beginning of World War I.

The style--emphasizing flowing lines, feminine forms and nature themes--reflects the social and cultural attitudes of the time.

As the suffrage movement changed attitudes about women's role in society, Art Nouveau's women were meant to enchant while reflecting greater ideals such as truth and progress.

At the same time, writings by naturalist philosophers piqued the public's interest in natural splendors.

"It was a great new world, and they were putting it on boxes," Pody said.

In 1991 Steven Pody put his collecting passion on hold while he and Beate moved to the West African country of Mauritania for two years to re-establish a Peace Corps administrative post.

Their first child, Miranda, was just 4 months old when she left for Africa with her parents.

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What's your passion? Do you have an interesting collection or an unusual hobby? We'd like to hear about it. E-mail Life editor Katherine Shapleigh at kshapleigh@freelancestar.com or call 374-5461.