New Installation: Style and Status in Sterling

May 25, 2017 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment


Art nouveau loving cup given to a New Jersey insurance executive to celebrate his forty years of service, Gorham Manufacturing Company, 1905. Silver, 19 x 13 in. Gift of James Hillas, 1967.

Nobody has ever needed objects made of silver. Yet silver objects have been made and used and treasured here since Europeans first set foot in North America.

So why would a museum want to create a gallery devoted to the use and production of silver objects for the American home? The answer is simple. Because silver still matters, even if many Americans have forgotten why.

This is why museums exist, after all: to remind us of things we’ve forgotten or maybe didn’t even know in the first place. Silver is part of our history, and it is part of our artistic heritage as a nation.

In May 2017, in the original Guest Room of the 1885 Ballantine House, the Newark Museum will unveil its first-ever permanent gallery devoted to American silver from the Colonial period to the present day. The approximately one hundred objects, ranging from
tablespoons to massive candelabra, represent the story of silver in America and were chosen from one of the most comprehensive museum collections of American silver in the country.


One of a pair of candelabra made for the Paris World’s Fair in 1900. Tiffany & Co., 1900. Silver, 28 ½ x 22 x 12 ½ in. Purchase 2011 Helen McMahon Brady Cutting Fund.

Two of the key themes are “Because we love you” and “Showing off.” Silver is a mineral (Ag on the periodic table of elements) and has been considered precious since ancient Egypt and Han Dynasty China (206 BC–AD 220). For thousands of years, silver has been associated with money and power. As a result, its intrinsic value has elevated the prestige of any object made from it and any person who owns it.

If you give someone an object made of silver, you are telling them they are loved; they matter; they are precious. That’s why silver objects are given to couples to honor their marriage or mark an anniversary. Silver is also given to celebrate the
birth of a child, or to honor a long career or a job well done.

“Showing off” is a less subtle theme. Because silver had long been associated with cash and therefore represented literal wealth, silver objects are a traditional way to demonstrate personal status. One of the Museum’s founding trustees purchased a massive pair of ornate silver candelabra that Tiffany had displayed in two different world’s fairs.


Coffeepot by Ubaldo Vitali and Leonard DiNardo, 1999. Silver and glass, 13 x 7 ½ x 5 ¼ in. Gift of Movado.

The exhibition’s simplest themes involve stylistic change over time and the use of silver as an artistic medium. A small timeline of coffeepots demonstrates how silver has traditionally been an indicator of current fashion. Nine beautiful coffeepots show how a single form changed stylistically from the middle of the 18th century to the beginning of the 21st. Every stop on the timeline will include a snippet of American history to remind visitors what was going on when each piece was made. A unique coffeepot made in New York City by Halsted and Myers dates from the mid-1760s, just after the end of the French and Indian War. Myer Myers was the only Jewish silversmith in Colonial America, and Benjamin Halsted had a silver shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

At the other end of the spectrum, a postmodern coffeepot, made in 1999, was a collaboration between New Jersey silversmith Ubaldo Vitali, and New Jersey glassmaker Leonard DiNardo. Commissioned by Movado for the Millennium, it recalls a time when people everywhere were worried about the “Y2K bug” that was going to cause computers all over the world to crash.

Because silversmithing can be an expression of artistic talent, there is a section devoted to silver objects that were intended as works of art. Another section of the gallery will be devoted to objects made of electroplated silver. The technology for electrically transferring pure silver onto the surface of a base-metal object (tin, copper or another white metal) was developed in the United States by the 1840s. This allowed people of modest means to have access to silver objects.


Colonial coffeepot made in the shop of Myer Myers and Benjamin Halsted, 1763–65. Silver and wood, 11 x 8 ½ x 5 ½ in. Purchase 2016 Mr. and Mrs. WIlliam V. Griffin Fund.

Every major religion has used silver vessels for its worship practices because of the ancient belief that silver was purifying and noble. There are four objects that specifically relate to Christian and Jewish religious rituals.

There is also a small section, clustered on the Guest Room’s carved mantelpiece, reminding visitors that Newark was a major silversmithing city, and encouraging them to visit Newark, City of Silver and Gold from Tiffany to Cartier.

– Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator and Curator  of Decorative Arts

Style & Status in Sterling is made possible by:Ruth L. Hutter and Eleonore Kessler Cohen & Max Insel Cohen



Entry filed under: Decorative Arts. Tags: , .

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