More than 70 Objects Include Rare Works by Women Artists Shown for the First Time in Generations
BOSTON (October 23, 2018)—In the early 20th century, Boston boasted one of the most active and influential jewelry-making and metalworking communities in the nation. Boston Made: Arts and Crafts Jewelry and Metalworkat the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is the first exhibition exclusively dedicated to the exemplary works of this vibrant and interwoven group of craftspeople—many of them women, who were offered unprecedented opportunities in education, training and patronage. Sharing a belief in the ideals of the international Arts and Crafts philosophy, the tight-knit community favored an aesthetic noted for uniting design and handcraftsmanship as well as for its use of color and precious materials. The exhibition features more than 70 works by 14 artists, including jewelry, tableware, decorative accessories and design drawings. Shown together, as they would have been at the time of their creation, the objects invite visitors to explore the philosophy and artistry of the Arts and Crafts movement in Boston, as well as the stories of their makers and owners. On view from November 17, 2018 through March 29, 2020 in the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery, Boston Made: Arts and Crafts Jewelry and Metalwork is accompanied by a complementary installation in the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing and an illustrated catalogue produced by MFA Publications. Presented with support from the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation, Inc. / Susan B. Kaplan, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, and Dyann and Peter Wirth.
The exhibition was co-organized by Nonie Gadsden, Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture; Meghan Melvin, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Curator of Design; and Emily Stoehrer, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry.
Combining design and social reform, the international Arts and Crafts movement developed in England in the late 19th century as a reaction to the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution on everyday life. Arts and Crafts leaders promoted artistic activity, appreciation of beauty and handcraftsmanship as essential to leading a joyful and fulfilling life. They exalted the independent craftsperson, praised the dignity of physical labor and urged followers to seek simplicity and respite in nature, looking to the preindustrial past for inspiration. Arts and Crafts was both an artistic and a cultural movement, which encouraged a broader segment of society to embrace this bohemian lifestyle by becoming consumers and promoters of artistic wares. As these ideas spread across the Atlantic, they found a ready audience in the intellectual and artisanal circles of Boston, which became the intellectual hub of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States. Boston’s Society of Arts and Crafts was officially incorporated in 1897, encouraging the development of artist-craftspeople by hosting exhibitions, selling works and providing courses, lectures and literature. Additionally, members of the Society of Arts and Crafts enjoyed free admission to the MFA, where they could source inspiration from the collection.
“Many values of the Arts and Crafts movement have again gained popularity in today’s society,” said Gadsden. “In a reaction to our increasingly high-tech, virtual world, many have embraced a return to simplicity and handcraftsmanship, as seen in various craft and artisanal movements. We hope to draw parallels between the two eras and encourage visitors to contemplate how their own lifestyle philosophy might be expressed through their fashion and homeware choices.”
The inclusive nature of the Arts and Crafts movement offered new opportunities for women, particularly those interested in jewelry and metalwork. Boston Madefeatures the work of nine women artists, including pioneers Josephine Hartwell Shaw (1865–1941), Elizabeth Copeland (1866–1957) and Margaret Rogers (1868–1949), who were among the most prominent early Arts and Crafts metalworkers in the nation. Each took advantage of new educational programs in Boston to develop her skills, participate in local and national exhibitions and competitions, sell her work through the Society of Arts and Crafts and other galleries, and earn a living from her craft. In 1913, the MFA acquired a gold and pearl brooch and a gold, emerald and pearl ring (about 1913) made by Shaw, making her the first female contemporary jewelry maker represented in the Museum’s collection. The work of Shaw, Copeland and Rogers is reunited with that of other female makers, including Lucretia McMurtrie Bush (1867–1953), Gertrude S. Twichell (1889–after 1947), Katherine Pratt (about 1891–1978), Mary Catherine Knight (1876–1956), Hazel Blake French (1890–1972) and Jessie Ames Dunbar (1876–1957), all of whom were successful in their time, but little known today. Work by each of these women is rare, and some of the examples in the exhibition, such as Bush’s turquoise and gold brooch (1911–27, Collection of Aram Berberian and Rosalie Berberian), will be shown publicly for the first time in generations.
“Boston jewelry may conjure images of restrained, puritanical designs, but the city’s Arts and Crafts designers actually favored colored gemstones, enamel and a mix of metals. Visitors might be surprised to see an elaborate mix of materials—from glass and antique artifacts to gold and diamonds,” said Stoehrer. “Studying with the same teachers, working in close proximity and exhibiting together, the artists featured in the exhibition influenced one another and over time codified the city’s look in jewelry.”
The exhibition prominently features the work of jeweler and enamellist Frank Gardner Hale (1876–1945) and silversmith Arthur Stone (1847–1938), both luminaries in their respective fields, including design drawings from the Hale and Stone archives at the MFA. Presented alongside their jewelry and metalwork, the drawings illuminate the artists’ working processes and demonstrate the importance of design in every step of their craft. Trained in England and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) in Boston, Hale was recognized both locally and nationally as a leading Arts and Crafts maker and advocate. His work was diverse in style and form, but his aesthetic was nearly always colorful, as seen in the designs for pendants from one of his scrapbooks. Stone was arguably the most important Arts and Crafts silversmith who worked in the U.S. Often ornamented with spare floral decoration, his elegant silver wares are prized for their fine craftsmanship.
“Artists’ archives provide a unique window into the creative process of an individual, often illuminating aspects of work lost to time,” said Melvin. “For many artisans, designing on paper was a vital component of their practice that fulfilled multiple purposes of documentation, instruction and client relations.”
Organized thematically, several cases in the exhibition explore the defining characteristics of Boston Arts and Crafts jewelry and metalwork, including color, materials and influence of historical styles. Additionally, a woman’s dress (about 1906) and a painting—The New Necklace (1910) by William McGregor Paxton (1869–1941)—from the era contextualize the jewelry on view, illustrating how it would have been paired with clothing in the 20th century. The corresponding installation in the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing, located in the Lorraine and Alan Bressler Gallery, further examines Boston Arts and Crafts metalwork, with a special focus on the Handicraft Shop—an experimental, collaborative workshop of independent makers in silver, copper and enamels. The corresponding installation, “Boston Arts and Crafts Metalwork,” is made possible by Dyann and Peter Wirth.
Written by Gadsden, Melvin and Stoehrer and produced by MFA Publications, Arts and Crafts Jewelry in Boston: Frank Gardner Hale and His Circle (November 2018) reproduces dozens of ornaments in dazzling color, accompanied by design drawings from the extensive Frank Gardner Hale Archive at the MFA. The authoritative text by scholars of jewelry and design history explores how Hale and his contemporaries expressed Arts and Crafts principles in the creation of jewels of enduring allure. Generous support for the publication was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Publications Fund.