Published: August 8, 2000
NEW HAVEN, CONN. – The winners of the 1998 Charles F. Montgomery Prize and Charles F. Montgomery award have been announced by the Decorative Arts Society, Inc., a professional organization of curators, academics, and others interested in American and European decorative arts.
The Montgomery Prize, presented annually for “the most distinguished contribution to the study of American decorative arts published in the English language in the given year,” was presented to the American Arts Office of the Yale University Art Gallery for Patricia E. Kane, ed., Colonial Massachusetts Silversmiths and Jewelers (New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, 1998). More than 70 years ago, Francis Hill Bigelow began to compile biographical information on Massachusetts silversmiths. With Bigelow’s death in 1933, his notes were passed along to John Marshall Phillips, the curator of the Garvan Collection, who then added to them extensively during his career at the Yale Art Gallery.
Over the years many other scholars added to those files, resulting in a wealth of detailed information on silversmiths and their wares. Patricia Kane spearheaded a major publication effort by many scholars to compile this date in a single volume. Using the Bigelow-Phillips files as the foundation, Kane coordinated a team of scholars and graduate students who cross-checked information; combed court records, probate records, town records, genealogies, and manuscripts to identify silversmiths and flush out their lives; and secondary sources such as collection catalogues and auction catalogues to document all known objects and marks.
The result is a compendium of 296 biographies by several authors, with detailed photographs of known marks and inventories of surviving objects. To provide a context for these biographies, the book also includes three valuable essays: Barbara McLean Ward on the craft of silversmiths and jewelers in colonial Massachusetts, Kane on the stylistic developments in Boston silver, and Gerald W.R. Ward on the lives and work of rural silversmiths.
The prodigious detailed research and the clear presentation of the materials will make this volume the reference standard for decades to come. The meticulous scholarship make this work a paragon of traditional decorative arts research, yet the interpretive essays bring a fresh analytical eye to the data and should spur on additional interpretation of other colonial centers or of Boston’s silversmithing trade in the early national period.
The Montgomery Award, presented annually to “the scholar whose first major publication in the field of American decorative arts was judged the most outstanding such work published in the given year,” was presented to Jill Beute Koverman, the project director for and editor of “I made this jar…”: The Life and Works of the Enslaved African-American Potter, “Dave”. (Columbia, S.C.: McKissick Museum and University of South Carolina Press, 1998). This groundbreaking book examines the relationships between race and material culture, focusing upon the life, production, and practices of a single potter, Dave (1800 – circa 1870).
Koverman headed the project, wrote the lead essay, and edited the volume, which also includes contributions by a number of other scholars: Orville Burton on the Dave’s hometown of Edgefield, James Miller on African-American poetry, John Burrison on pot poetry, and Fred and Joe Holcombe on archaeological work at Edgefield pottery sites. Not content simply to transcribe the prose on the stoneware pottery, Koverman probes deeply for the meanings of this potter’s work, relating it to the alkaline glaze tradition of that area, assessing its workmanship, and exploring the meaning of the verse.
She emphasizes how unusual it was that a slave craftsman would sign his wares when it was illegal for salves to be literate. Free blacks and slaves comprised an important part of the South Carolina craft community in the colonial and early national period, but the racial context of craft production has long been overlooked in decorative arts objects. Koverman’s project examines craft production, literacy, and the use of verse to uncover aspects of the “world the slaves made.”
The Montgomery Award and Prize are named for Charles F. Montgomery (1910-1978), an inspirational teacher, creative curator, and innovative scholar of American art. A graduate of Harvard College (Class of 1932), Mr Montgomery served on the staff of the Winterthur Museum during the 1950s and 1960s, and was director of that institution from 1954 to 1961.
From 1970 to 1978 he was curator of the Garvan and Related Collections of American Art at the Yale University Art Gallery and Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. His many publications include American Furniture: The Federal Period (1966), A History of American Pewter (1973), and contributions to American Art, 1750-1800: Towards Independence (1976).
The Award/Prize Selection Committee this year included Edward S. Cooke, Jr., professor of the history of art, Yale University; Ann Smart Martin, assistant professor of art history, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Kevin Stayton, curator of decorative arts, Brooklyn Museum; and Neville Thompson, librarian, Printed Book and Periodical Collection, Winterthur Museum.
Among the works considered for the Montgomery Prize, the committee found three works to be close runners-up: Margaret Carney, Charles Fergus Binns: The Father of American Studio Ceramics (New York: Hudson Hills, 1998); Peter Kenny, Frances Bretter, and Ulrich Legen, Honore Lannuier, Cabinetmaker from Paris: The Life and Work of a French Ebeniste in Federal New York (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998); and Ruth Phillips, Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998). A close runner-up in the Award deliberations was Christian Carron, Grand Rapids Furniture (Grand Rapids, MI: Grand Rapids Art Museum, 1998).
The Decorative Arts Society, Inc., is the only professional organization in this country in its field. Its membership includes museum curators, members of the academic community, collectors, and dealers. It provides a forum for those interested in American and European decorative arts of all periods and encourages research in the field.
Toward these goals, programs are organized throughout the year and a Newsletter is published triennially. For information of the Society, contact Mr Gerald W.R. Ward, Katharine Lane Weems Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Mass. 02115.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm