Published: June 17, 2008
The exhibition “Silversmiths to the Nation: Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner, 1808‱842,” on view at Winterthur Museum & Country Estate July 4⁓eptember 21, is the first to focus solely on the work of the Philadelphia silversmith firm, and will feature more than 100 objects created by Fletcher & Gardiner.
“Fletcher & Gardiner were the preeminent silversmiths in America in the early Nineteenth Century, as famous as Tiffany & Co. is today,” said Donald L. Fennimore, Winterthur curator emeritus and co-curator of the exhibition. “They were renowned for their dramatic presentation pieces for civic and military heroes. Their style was distinctly American, and their stylish household silver and jewelry was in demand from customers throughout the United States.”
Fletcher and Gardiner began their careers in Boston in 1808 and moved to Philadelphia three years later. The firm remained in business until 1842, and it established a national reputation by virtue of several exceptional commissions, notably many celebratory objects created to commemorate War of 1812 events. The firm was also at the forefront of dramatic changes in the American silversmith’s workshop. Its talent and ambitions, coupled with increasing demands for dramatic high-quality silver, led to the firm adopting improved manufacturing techniques as well as innovative artistry.
Among the highlights in “Silversmiths to the Nation” are a monumental silver urn awarded to Captain Isaac Hull of the frigate Constitution , the firm’s first military presentation commission; a selection of swords, medals, commemorative works and military memorabilia; and an extensive array of household and personal items, including tea sets, pitchers, dinner services, a candelabrum, vases and flatware that represent the quantity and variety of new stylish designs created by Fletcher & Gardiner.
One section of the exhibition will focus on innovations in silver construction that enabled the firm to evolve from historic craft shop practices to those of an entrepreneurial business. The extraordinary survival of business papers, personal letters, design drawings and a travel journal preserve the firm’s history, which mirrored America’s coming of age as an independent commercial, industrial, political and artistic presence.
A symposium, “American Silver of the Early Nineteenth Century,” will be conducted September 5‶ in conjunction with the exhibition. The symposium will address topics such as the European goldsmithing tradition, luxury goods in early Nineteenth Century England, American jewelry of the Nineteenth Century and early Nineteenth Century Philadelphia silver and silversmiths. The cost is $340, $295 for Winterthur members and professionals working for nonprofit organizations; and $225 for students.
Following its appearance at Winterthur, “Silversmiths to the Nation” will travel to the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Fla., where it will be on display November 21⁊anuary 11.
Winterthur is on Route 52. For information, 800-448-3883, 302-888-4600 or www.winterthur.org .
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