A review by Marbeth Schon

 Wilcox Silver Plate Company
Meriden, Connecticut, active 1867 – 1961
A division of International Silver Company

Jean G. Theobald, American, active 1920s – 1930s

Diament dinette set, 1928
Silverplate, Bakelite

Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design is at the Dallas Museum of Art from June 18 through September 24, 2006. The exhibit features the extraordinary American silver collection of Jewel Stern. On display are over 200 examples of modernist American silverware produced between 1925 and 2000. 

Kevin W. Tucker, The Margot B. Perot Curator of Decorative Arts and Design of the Dallas Museum of Art, is the project director and co-curator. Jewel Stern, an independent scholar, and Charles Venable, Deputy Director for Collections and Programs at Cleveland Museum of Art, are co-curators.

The exhibition leads the viewer through the historical progression of American modernist industrial silver design from Art Moderne and Art Deco to Post Modernism and beyond.

The catalog that accompanies the exhibit is an astoundingly comprehensive work by Jewel Stern with magnificent photographs. 

 (Most of the information and all quotes below are taken from the catalog for the exhibit, "Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design.")

Gorham Manufacturing Company
Providence, Rhode Island,
active 1831 –  present

Erik Magnussen, Danish, 1884 – 1961

Bonbon dish, 1926
Silver, ivory

Scandinavian modernism was becoming fashionable in America during the mid 1920s--"lauded as a 'breath of fresh air." Danish silversmith/designer Erik Magnussen was brought by Gorham to Providence in order to design "modern handwrought silver with an eye to developing a contemporary machine-made line." The Gorham candy jar by Magnussen (above) resembles early 20th century Danish silver.

Paye & Baker Manufacturing Co.
North Attleboro, Massachusetts, active 1901 – 1935

Ilonka Karasz, American, 1896 – 1981

Tea ball and stand, 1928

Hungarian born designer, Ilonka Karasz was hired by silver manufacturer Paye and Baker "to design several modern silverplated hollowware lines introduced in 1928." Influences of the German Bauhaus can be seen in her tea ball and stand (above).

Charter Company
Wallingford, Connecticut, active c. 1930 – 1942
A division of International Silver Company

Cocktail Shaker, 1928
Enameled silver, ebony



The emergence of the American skyscraper and the speed of new modes of transportation  prompted the streamlining of design that took place during the late 1920s and 1930s. For color, designers also added Bakelite or enamel to silver.  The wonderfully designed cocktail shaker (above) was part of an enameled set with twelve cocktail cups and a tray. It sold for $725.00 in 1928 ( a considerable sum).

Helen Hughes Dulany Studio
Chicago, Illinois, active mid – 1930s

Helen Hughes Dulany, American, 1885 – 1968

Candelabra (pair), c.1935

The original, modernist candelabra above was designed and produced by socialite/designer Helen Hughes Dulany in Chicago. It is a rare piece--her career was short-lived (from about 1930-1937).  

Tiffany & Co.
New York, New York, active 1837 – present

Arthur Leroy Barney (attributed to), American, 1884 – 1955

Water pitcher and tumbler, 1939 (designed c.1938)
Gilded silver

Tiffany & Co exhibited the modern design silver pitcher and tumbler (above) at the New York World's Fair in 1939.  Except for the square bases of the pieces, one can see a  resemblance to Mexican silver of the same time period.

Towle Silversmiths
Newburyport, Massachusetts, active 1882 – present

Robert J. King, American, born 1917

John Van Koert, American, 1912 – 1998

Contour beverage set, 1953 (designed 1951-52)
Silver and polystyrene


The new aesthetic of the 1950s was based primarily on "organic or biomorphic modernism"--amoeboid, boomerang and kidney shapes. Towle Silversmith's response to this vogue was "Contour" (see above) with its "swollen bodies," raised handles and drawn-out spouts. 

The influence of the designer/craftsman also emerged and strengthened within the decade of the 1950s. During World War II, metalsmith/jeweler Margret Craver set up metalworking studios for GIs at army hospitals and many soldiers, returning from the war, turned to crafts and especially metalworking as a way of life. After the war, Craver also began a series of educational projects in order to renew interest in and teach the techniques of silversmithing. They were the national Silversmithing Workshop Conferences sponsored by Handy and Harman that took place from 1947-1951.  Many of the participants became well-known metalsmiths, designers, and teachers including Frederick A. Miller, John Paul Miller, and Earl Pardon.  In 1950, Craver married Charles Withers, president of Towle Silversmiths, and became an influential consultant to the company, encouraging the hiring of designer/craftsmen such as Robert J. King, Earl Pardon, and Marion Anderson Noyes, a "freelance consultant to Towle between 1944-1955." Noyes's serpentine candlesticks (below) were a great success.

Towle Silversmiths
Newburyport, Massachusetts, active 1882 – present

Marion Anderson Noyes, American, 1907 – 2002

Candlesticks (pair), c.1957
Silver and plastic

With the advent of the Cold War and the Space Race, 1960s design imagery turned to outer space--stars, planets, moons, orbits, etc.  The candleholder (below) titled "Celestial Centerpiece"  was designed by Robert J. King for International Sterling to be placed in the Moon Room of the Pavilion of American Interiors at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

International Silver Company
Meriden, Connecticut, active 1898  –  present

Robert J. King, American, b. 1917

Celestial Centerpiece for the “Moon Room” 1964
Silver, spinel sapphires


In 1960, influenced by "Sputnik" and the ambitions of Americans to go the moon--"the upward look to space," Donald H. Colflesh designed "Circa '70" for Gorham (see set below). Colflesh, who was from Cleveland and a graduate of Pratt Institute, acknowledged the influence of his teacher, studio silversmith Frederick A. Miller.

Gorham Manufacturing Company
Providence, Rhode Island, active 1831 – present

Donald Colflesh, American, born 1932

Circa ’70 tea and coffee service, 1963, (designed 1958, introduced 1960)
Silver, ebony

The "explosion of color" that pervaded silverware in the the 1960s was a reaction to the the 1950s enameled metalware of Scandinavia. In 1961, Reed & Barton came out with "Color Glaze,' an enamel-like translucent painted finish" developed primarily by craftsman-in-residence John Prip.

Experiments in enamelware at Towle Silversmiths were motivated by the enamel work of Margret Craver Withers and jeweler/metalsmith Earl Pardon. Towle also produced a "sterling tazza with an enamel interior that has, instead of an allover decorative design, a stamped central motif that is reminiscent of the village drawings of the Swiss modernist artist Paul Klee during the 1920s and of the early 1950s work of the Egyptian born sculptor, Ibram Lassaw."

Assorted works from Reed & Barton, Wallace, and Towle.
Silverplate with applied color and enamel.

The postmodernism of the 1980s and 1990s took its clue partly from Italy where high quality items of excellent design were being produced by makers such as San Lorenzo, Cleto Munari, and Allessi who had "commissioned modern silver designs by architects." Two American women, Nan Swid and Addie Powell who had been associated with Knoll International, recognized an American "demand for higher quality design in contemporary tableware and were familiar with the Italian makers." They established the company Swid Powell and "assembled a group of designers to create the inaugural collection of architect-designed crystal, china, and silver."  Their idea was to create "beautiful, functional pieces that can be lived with and used."  The company was very successful and by 1990 their products were sold in "five hundred American stores and in others abroad."

Inspired by the popularity of these objects, Steuben hired two members of the Swid Powell team to "create signature works that combined glass with metal." "In 1989, the archaic Vessel Collection, designed by Michael Graves and consisting of a bowl and two vases supported on bronze stands in the manner of ancient vessels, was introduced. The Framed Vessel Collection, by Richard Meier, followed in 1994."  (see bowl below).

Steuben Glass Works
Corning, New York, Founded 1903

Richard Meier, American, born 1934

Michael Brophy (maker), American born 1959

Framed bowl, 1994
Glass and silverplated nickel

In her final chapter, Silver at the Dawn of a New Century  from the catalog for this exhibit, Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design, Jewel Stern says that by 2000 only four of the major old line silver manufacturers were still in business: Reed & Barton, Lunt, Oneida, and Tiffany.

She concludes that the items in this exhibit are "precious artifacts to be collected.....and cherished at home as stunning embodiments of our recent past."


For more information about the exhibit and to order the catalog for "Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design"  please visit http://www.dallasmuseumofart.org/Dallas_Museum_of_Art/View/Silver/index.htm

More information about related exhibits throughout the U.S. and worldwide can be found at http://www.modernsilver.com/column.html

Review by Marbeth Schon
Information and quotations from
"Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design"
 by Jewel Stern

Photos courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art
Web design by Marbeth Schon

 Copyright © 2006 MODERN SILVER magazine
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