The American Friends of the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum (AFILJM) reception at the Rubin Museum of Art took place on October 17. AFILJM, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation, was founded in July 2014 to strengthen ties between the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum (ILJM), based in Athens, Greece, and the American public.

Marilena Christodoulou- Director of Finance and Administration of the Rubin Museum, gave the welcoming remarks at the reception and thanked everyone for their presence and their support. She noted that the AFILJM seeks to share the richness and vision of the ILJM with millions of Americans through the generosity of its contributors. The ILJM is a unique museum devoted to the art of jewelry and the decorative arts, founded in 1993, and opened to the public as a non-profit organization. As noted by AFILJM Board member and bestselling author Jeffrey Siger who spoke at the event, the museum receives no funding from the government and runs on “museum shop revenues, ticket sales, and private and institutional funding… the generosity of donors like you.”





Dear honored guests.

My name is Jeffrey Siger, and on behalf of the Board of Directors of the American Friends of the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, it is my distinct privilege to welcome you to the international debut of our 501(c) (3) tax exempt organization’s efforts to help ensure the continued legacy of the creative genius and, much-loved icon of Greek jewelry-making, Ilias Lalaounis.

Many of you know Ilias’ wife Lila, and their daughters Aikaterini, Demetra, Maria, and Ioanna. In those five remarkable women you could find no greater testament to his character….and good taste.

But this evening is not about the man or his family, even though his unique, seminal contributions to the craft of jewelry-making are all about us, influencing the progress of the art everyday. 

This evening is about our organization’s dedication to promoting the mission of the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum—and on that mention of the Museum, I’m pleased to note that next year the Museum celebrates its 25th anniversary as the very first jewelry museum in Greece, and its certification by the Greek government as a not for profit cultural organization.

So, what is that mission of the Museum?  In a few words, it acts as an international center for decorative arts and crafts, with an emphasis on goldsmithing and contemporary studio jewelry.

It takes many more words to list the Museum’s sizeable accomplishments in carrying out that mission, but in a broad sense, in addition to its celebrated permanent collection, the Museum has organized more than 80 temporary exhibitions from museums and private collections around the world, held 1,200 original hands-on educational programs reaching over 150,000 students and an even greater number of adults. The Museum’s future agenda continues to focus on cutting edge cultural education, augmented by novel fun and inspirational programing activities, such as its new Jewelry Artist in Residence Program, the Hephaistos Summer School, and its Annual Crafts Bazaar.

And all of this has been achieved without government funding. The museum derives its income from Museum Shop revenues, ticket sales, and private and institutional funding.

In a few moments, Ioanna Lalaouni, Director of the Museum, will briefly describe the many ground breaking educational and cultural exchange programs actively underway through the generosity of donors like you.

But for now, let me tell you two things that our organization, American Friends of the Museum, are not: 

First, We are NOT an organization formed to passively funnel money back to Greece without regard to whether or not it benefits Americans.  We are an organization dedicated to achieving a full and complete educational and cultural exchange between Greece and the United States. 

For example, the Museum has established programs with the United States (a) that exchange academics, artists, and students; (b) that have the Museum as the first jewelry museum in the world pledging to recognize the work of American creators; (c) that bring US cultural and educational activities, as well as exhibitions, to Greece, and (d) I’m pleased to announce, that make its Athens-based Summer School addressing the history of jewelry, now fully accredited in the United States.

And the Second thing we’re not, is we are NOT an organization seeking contributions for programs that will happen at some unspecified future time. We seek support for programs already fully underway for which funding is needed to keep them alive and flourishing, most notably the Museum’s new Jewelry Studios exclusively funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. But more about that from Ioanna.

Simply put, the purpose of American Friends of the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum is to bring Greece and America truly together in continuing, ongoing cultural and educational exchanges for the betterment of both countries for the very first time.”

And, now, before I ask Ioanna to tell you what’s really going on, I would be far more than remiss if I did not thank my fellow board member, Marilena Christodoulou, and the Rubin Museum of Art, for all they’ve done to make this evening the success that it is. Thank you, Marilena.

And though it was my honor to welcome you on behalf of the Board, I want to quickly point out the other members of the Board who made me do this introduction.

Helen Drutt English

Keith and Lisa Jewell

Carlos Picón

Lena Saltos

George Tsandikos

George Tsougarakis



Greece – why Greece? – Why am I drawn to engage myself with the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum in Athens? Why was I seduced by Ioanna when she came to see me in 2015 and set forth her asperations and plans to bring the museum into the center of a more global sphere and create a dynamic exchange educationally with America – and to build an international collection of work.

I joined the embryonic board – with the support of my fond memories of brief visits to Greece.

In 1981, during my first trip to Athens, I watched the Caryatids being removed from the Acropolis into the now great Acropolis Museum.  I had the privilege of meeting Odysseus Elytis – the famous Greek poet who won the Nobel Prize in 1979 – my husband had just published “The Sovereign Sun” translated by Kimon Friar – we read original letters by Kazantzakis and I found the home of Angelika Hazimacher, the mother of Greek costumes and textiles – and I knew about Ilias Lalalounis and his amazing work – but there was no museum in 1981. International figures wore his designs like Jackie Kennedy and Melina Mecouri who collected his works.

In 2002, my return to Athens included, at last, a meeting with Ilias in his office. I remember him sitting behind his desk wearing a khaki suit and drawing – he showed me his designs based on the sperm.

I knew of him as a renaissance man, artist, alchemist, explorer – he measured time of matter, time of energy – he studied myths – religions – he drew, painted, and evolved his findings into sensuous golden forms – to paraphrase D.H. Lawrence – “The wind that blew through him gave us a gift.”

In 2015, while in Athens, the president of Greece, Pavlopoulos, told me that Elytis and Ilias were made from the same cloth.

From his beginning grew the museum in 1993 which was devoted at first to his collection – enter Ioanna, his youngest daughter, who studied in the U.S. and knew that the essence of the museum had to grow educationally and join other institutions and museums that were developing educational exchanges and international collections.   

During the 21st century, many private collections of jewelry have entered major museums – joining the ranks of mainstream art.

In 2002, the Helen Williams Drutt Collection entered the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, followed by the Daphne Farago Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Donna Schneier Collection entered the Museum of Art & Design, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lois Boardman, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the seminal Inge Asenbaum Collection in Vienna was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art and joined ranks with the Deedie and Edward Rose Collection. In November we will celebrate the entrance of the Susan Grant Lewin Collection at the Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design, Smithsonian Institute, New York.

In Europe, public collections have flourished – among them, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, the Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the comprehensive international collections spearheaded by Yvonne Joris in the Stedelijk, Den Bosch, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Louvre, among others, plus the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and The National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne.

My responsibility as a member of the board of the American Friends is to develop a collection worthy of the museum as well as forming a study collection for the educational sector.

My hope is to develop a collection consisting of 25 works to honor their 25th anniversary in 2018.

To date, gifts from America have come from Debra Rapoport, Judy Onofrio, Marjorie Schick and, most recently, a brooch from the great Italian goldsmith Bruno Martinazzi. Today I present a gift from a private donor of two additional works – the first example of CAD/CAM, a computer-generated bracelet by Doug Bucci, American, and a brooch by Giorgio Vigna from Milan – a sun-shaped brooch in honor of Elytis’s “The Sovereign Sun”.

I am honored to be a part of this amazing initiative and to be a part of this team of women whom Ilias Lalaounis nurtured and dedicated them to all aspects of jewelry – our President and International Ambassador Lila, mother of Aikaterini who manages the shop in Greece, Demetra who manages the shops abroad, Maria who manages the workshop in Athens and Ioanna our director of the Ilias Lalaounis Museum.



In 1969, Ilias and Lila Lalaounis arrived in New York with a brief case, filled with beautiful jewelry as samples to be presented to a well-known company for the distribution of Lalaounis s work in the US. Upon arrival Ilias discovered that the brief case was stolen from the cock pit of the airplane he and Lila voyaged and were never to be found.

At that same trip to New York, the Lalaounis’ s met with Salvador Dali, who after listening to the devastated Ilias stated “Ilias do not worry, I see that the thieves have a very good taste; but more importantly this action indicates that your work is, seriously valued.”


Honored guests

Salvador Dali was right!  A lasting and very successful career followed to bring us back today to the United States with a different offering. Not that of lavish and beautiful jewelry for sale.

But to bring Cultural Values and Breakthrough Educational Programs after the path that was opened by Ilias Lalaounis.

My journey, as Ioanna the forth daughter of Ilias and Lila, to the United States from the very beginning was bequeathed with spiritual & physical strength, mental knowledge and professional skills, which were pivotal towards my formation as a museum professional. I studied and interned in the States, but was never to realize a PhD., since I was summoned by my father, to return to Greece, and take up a very demanding project. As an obedient Greek daughter, but let’s face it also very intrigued by his offer, I was to pursue my passion for a career on cultural education through the organization and running of the first jewelry museum in Greece.

Since the Museum opened in 1994, my work has been very challenging:

To organize and run one of the three jewelry museums worldwide,

To compete among an extremely valued cultural environment;

and finally, to sustain this Museum during a continuous devastating economic crisis.

A lasting optimism and passion for new direction of creativity inherited by my father drove my vision to a lasting success. The amalgamation of tradition and technology & my ancestral heritage, have been valued throughout my work. Throughout the past quarter of the century:

-An amazing permanent collection is cultivated to create unique educational hands on programs.

-New technologies are used to bring in young audience.

-The Museum was the first in Greece to be designed and care, for people with Special needs.

-Training Professionals and creating new job opportunities are few of our Priorities.

Cutting-edge museum educational activities can be today further developed, cultivating thousands of souls here in the United States.  Through the establishment of the American Friends of the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum an eternal cultural bonding for the exchange of cutting edge museum programs may train, educate, entertain, and aspire the making of new art. These will benefit different ages and groups, but particularly those with an interest and passion for valued culture.

Specifically programs currently running that can benefit the American Community Create and further connect the two communities are:

-The Exchange of esteemed American and Greek Academics to lecture, research, or compose new educational programs, exhibitions, symposia and fun activities for families and people with special needs.

-Internships for American Students and Professionals in the Curatorial Department of the ILJM in Athens; /Fighting for Job unemployment.

Unique Programs launched for the First Time by and in a Museum are:

1.       Firstly

Training of Art Jewelry Students in a museum environment instead of a University classroom.

Since this May, the ILJM houses the first Jewelry Artist in Residence Program in a European Museum. With the formation of two fully equipped workshops, artists can work, experience, conserve, share and exchange knowledge with the public and specialists, while creating new art; and all this under the sacred rock of the Acropolis;

The ZEM AND ZEDET, (acronyms in Greek for what they stand for,) allow for the exchange of American, Greek and international Artists to further experiment on the making of jewelry. Plus, the Studios are live for Museum visitors at all hours.

2.       Secondly To enrich Museum Permanent Collections with Contemporary Jewelry.

-One by furthering the Value of the Lalaounis Legacy with Unique works entering American Museums. The first Lalaounis piece is now on display in the Philadelphia Museum of art and we have pledged more to the most important New York City Museums.

-Two: to bring new Greek artistic jewelry to American Museums  and

-Three: to include American contemporary jewelry in today’s modern Greece, at the ILJM’s permanent collections.     

3.       I will finish with just a third Program Proud to Present:

Hephaistos is a name we gave to the first worldwide accredited Summer School with the History of Western Jewelry. The Hephaistos Summer School is catered for students in American Universities. A two-week intense summer program to be conducted at the ILJM in Athens includes classes on the history of western jewelry, study visits to the most important Athenian sites and hands on visits to Jewelry workshops, all directed by an esteemed academic staff.

As Jeff Siger mentioned these programs are running thanks to private and institutional funding,

i.e. the New Live Jewelry workshops that were established this May, after the generous donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation;

and the first International American Studio jewelry are arriving in Athens thanks to the efforts of Helen Drutt.

My bet is, that every initiative, every new program will aspire and become a falcon for dynamic cultural organizations in multifaceted communities.

Like the Lalaounis 22 karat gold hand woven chain, that takes 2 hours of knitting for every inch; but that results to a beautiful, strong and lasting artifact;

Similarly, new cultural activities have been meticulously prepared that can link the Greek and American communities to cultivate a lasting and even more valued future.

I would like to extend an embrace of love to everyone for attending tonight.

And a great big thank you to the first Americans who shared this vision.

Helen Drutt English

Keith and Lisa Jewell

Carlos Picon

George Tsougarakis

Lena Saltos

Jeff Siger

George Tsandikos

Marilena Christodoulou

And everyone at the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed

I leave you with a Wish that you will

Share our Vision

Have an Open Mind to new Activities

Enhance Cultural Respect

And Connect Communities for the creation of New Art.