Exhibition | Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 1, 2012

From the New-York Historical Society:

Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York
New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, 4 May — 2 September 2012

Brandywine bowl (brandewijnkom), silver, ca. 1700 (New-York Historical Society) — Brandywine bowls are traditionally associated with the Dutch New York ritual of the kindermaal, a celebratory feast held in honor of a mother and her newborn child within ten days of the birth. The guests, predominantly female, feasted on sweet cakes and communally sipped a potent brew of brandy and raisins from a bowl such as this.

Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York, highlights the histories of 150 notable examples of silver from the New-York Historical Society’s collection. Made across the span of four centuries, the objects in the exhibition tell a diversity of stories: many speak to individual accomplishment and family pride, while a few have unsettling ties or backgrounds. The silver, ranging from simple spoons to extravagant trophies, culled from a trove of over 3,000 objects, includes powerful eyewitness artifacts linked to significant moments in the history of New York and the United States.

Stories in Sterling interprets these compelling objects within a cultural context, focusing on the men and women that made, used, and treasured these objects. The exhibition is organized thematically and addresses issues of silver patronage, usage of objects, rituals of presentation and the meanings of silver as they evolved over time. The exhibition will be enriched by a judicious selection of paintings, prints, photographs, manuscripts, furniture and other documents that illuminate the silver, help bring to life the individuals who acquired it and illustrate the physical context in which it was used.

Objects in the exhibition span the sixteenth through the twentieth  centuries, with a concentration on silver of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While the majority of objects were made in New York, some were crafted as far afield as England, the Netherlands, France, as well as China, Jamaica, and Argentina. All of the silver is firmly connected through its ownership to New York, highlighting the cosmopolitan nature of the city as early as the seventeenth century. For instance, the examples of Dutch silver brought to New York by early settlers, as well as the many imports from England, help chart cultural shifts, taste, and stylistic influence in colonial America and the early years of the nation.

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From the publisher:

Margaret K. Hofer with Debra Schmidt Bach, Stories in Sterling Four Centuries of Silver in New York (London: Giles, 2012), 352 pages, ISBN: 9781904832652, $70.

Stories in Sterling is the first comprehensive survey of the New-York Historical Society’s superb collection of early American silver, one of the finest in the United States. It features the full range of silver works, from masterpieces like the 1772 salver by New York City silversmith Lewis Fueter, to the simpler, but no less significant teapot made for the Schuyler family by the Albany silversmith Kiliaen Van Rensselaer in 1695 – one of the earliest teapots made in New York.

Seven chapters consider silver from a range of perspectives: its reflection of the multiethnic character of colonial New York; the impact of industrialization on its manufacture and consumption; its role in honouring public achievement or marking rites of passage; and, finally, its ability to express its owners’ social standing. With a wealth of related objects and original documents, Stories in Sterling is a vital reference tool for for scholars, collectors and enthusiasts of American silver and culture. It features extensive and superbly illustrated entries
with full dimensions, makers’ marks and weights in troy ounces,
and an appendix and checklist.

Margaret K. Hofer is curator of Decorative Arts at the New-York Historical Society, where she has organized numerous exhibitions, including A New Light on Tiffany (2007), which she co-authored. Debra Schmidt Bach, associate curator at the New-York Historical Society organized the exhibition The Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New-York Historical Society,(2010). Kenneth Ames is professor of American Decorative Arts and Material Culture of the 18th and 19th-centuries at the Bard Graduate Center, New York. His publications include Beyond Necessity: Art in the Folk Tradition; Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture (1995). David Barquist is curator of American Decorative Arts at Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a scholar on colonial New York silver. He is the author of Myer Myers Jewish Silversmith in Colonial New York (2001).

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