The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Collars: Photographs by Elinor Carucci

Monday, October 18, 2021, to Thursday, December 9, 2021 

white beaded collar

A South African beaded collar was Ginsburg’s favorite. She wore it often, including in her official court portrait. The necklace is so iconic that its geometric pattern — which gleamed white against her black judicial robe — is now synonymous with the late Justice herself.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was the second woman ever to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, wore distinctive collars not just to emphasize the overdue feminine energy she brought to the court, but also to encode meaning into her dress — a sartorial strategy practiced by powerful women throughout history. Her early penchant for traditional lace jabots later gave way to necklaces made of beads, shells, and metalwork from around the world, many of them gifts from colleagues and admirers.

elaborate beaded collar

Dissent Collar, 2020, archival pigment print, SLU 2021.21

As a Justice, Ginsburg continued her lifelong advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality. She often noted how the Jewish principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world) guided her work. Over nearly 30 years, she wrote many notable majority opinions that reflected quintessentially liberal views of the law. On the days that these were announced from the bench, she wore a gold and yellow sunburst collar to celebrate her victories.

Elinor Carucci’s photographs of Ginsburg’s collars serve as a reminder of the late Justice’s determined spirit, as well as an undeniable record of her absence. Nowhere is this tension felt more keenly than in the image of the bejeweled collar Ginsburg famously wore on the days she passionately argued her dissents. This necklace was her battle armor, meant symbolically to protect her, and by extension, the marginalized groups — women, minorities, immigrants, the queer, and disabled — whose rights she championed for over six decades.

lacework collar

Majority Collar, 2020, archival pigment print

The still life series of Ginsburg’s collars is something of a departure for Carruci, an Israeli-American artist whose photographs typically examine intimacy, family, motherhood, and women in moments drawn from her own life. “Yet,” Carucci says, “I still see this project as being just as personal as any of my other work. Ruth Bader Ginsburg held special significance for Jewish women like me who dreamed of living a life that combined career success with tikkun olam. She represented my identity, values, and connection to America. She represents the values I hope to one day hand over to my daughter, [who, like Ginsburg,] is an American Jew, the child of an immigrant.”
Rebecca Shaykin, Associate Curator, the Jewish Museum

Elinor Carucci’s photographs were commissioned by TIME magazine in 2020 after the late Justice’s death, with details about each collar provided by the Ginsburg family. The essay above, used with permission of the author, was originally published in March 2021 as part of a series from the Jewish Museum called “Objects Tell Stories.” The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the October 2021 inauguration of Kathryn A. Morris as St. Lawrence University’s 19th president, noting the connection between Ginsburg and Morris each being the second woman to hold her respective position.