MINNEAPOLIS, MN, DECEMBER 10, 2012
Early American silver from one of the best private holdings of English and American silver in the world is presented in a new exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA).
“A Handsome Cupboard of Plate: Early American Silver from the Cahn Collection,” on display through March 24, 2013, showcases more than 50 objects from the collection of Paul and Elissa Cahn. The exhibition explores the development of silver craftsmanship for household use in colonial America, with emphasis on the makers and their distinctive styles. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
In 16th- and 17th-century Britain, as well as in the colonies that would later become the United States of America, silver objects were just as much a measure of a person’s intrinsic wealth as they were beautiful and utilitarian works of art. Silver was not only valuable, but also malleable—thus it could easily be fashioned into tableware, vessels, and personal adornments. Known simply as “plate,” such wares were often displayed on a cupboard in the living or dining area to impress visitors. But it could also be melted down for ready money in an economic downturn, or refashioned into the latest style for newlyweds or heirs. In the 17th and 18th centuries, American silversmiths made it increasingly unnecessary to order from abroad. Many came from immigrant families and worked in cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Some, such as patriot silversmith Paul Revere, Jr., of Boston, also became active in political, religious, and civic organizations in their communities.
Amassed over the course of 30 years, the Cahn Collection showcases the strong design and fine craftsmanship of silverworks from this period of American history. Extraordinary examples from this collection are featured in “A Handsome Cupboard of Plate,” from late 17th- to early 19th-century salvers, waiters, sauceboats, coffee pots, and tea services. Highlights include a 1763 “Eight Square” (octagonal) sugar dish from one of the most prolific Philadelphia silversmiths of his era, Quaker Joseph Richardson, Sr.; an exceptionally engraved waiter (c. 1768) by New York silversmith Myer Myers, which was commissioned as a presentation to merchant, officeholder, and land speculator Theodorus Van Wyck; and a tea set (1792) by Revere, which is displayed next to one from the MIA’s permanent collection, providing an opportunity to compare them.
The MIA first introduced the Cahn Collection with the traveling exhibition, “Beyond the Maker’s Mark: Paul de Lamerie Silver in the Cahn Collection” in 2008. Now, “A Handsome Cupboard of Plate,” organized by the MIA, will also travel to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Missouri History Museum, and Colonial Williamsburg.
Independent scholar Deborah Dependahl Waters authored the catalogue, which includes an essay by David Barquist, the H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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