Base to the Jeweled Casket
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
13.5 x 20.1 x 16.1 cm (5 5/16 x 7 15/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Silver, green gold, 143 amethysts 86 Japanese pearls, 88 onyx; laurel wood base
Lorraine and Alan Bressler Gallery (Gallery 222)
A wooden stepped base made of laurel, having rounded corners, provides a setting on which the casket rests. At each corner, a circular depression set with onyx within a petaled silver frame is designed to receive each of the faceted amethyst feet of the box. A plain rectangular silver plaque, with small finger grips at each narrow end, serves as a handle for a chamfered lid that is seated above a small recess in the base.
This object number refers to the base and its detachable lid. The artist also made a walnut box in which to store the jeweled casket (unnumbered).
Jeweler Edward Everett Oakes was a prominent member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. He began his training in 1909 with Boston jeweler Frank Gardner Hale (1876 – 1945), who had studied silversmithing and enameling with C. R. Ashbee, an English designer and utopian visionary. Oakes spent another three years working with Josephine Hartwell Shaw (1865 – 1941), a Pratt Institute – educated jeweler, before embarking on his own long career in 1917. Hale provided Oakes with a Renaissance design vocabulary, whereas Shaw offered a more sensitive appreciation of color, texture, and suitability to the client.
While training with Shaw, Oakes was elected to craftsman membership by the society, and in 1917 he was advanced to master craftsman. A prolific artist, Oakes became a member of the society’s Jewelers’ Guild, showing his work regularly at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and similar locations nationwide. In 1923 the society awarded him the Medal of Excellence, their highest honor, and that same year the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased a tasseled pendant from him.
Employing a naturalistic, asymmetrical style, Oakes selected moonstones, popular among Arts and Crafts artists, along with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and other richly colored stones, which he set amid tiny leaves he fabricated by hand (fig. 4). His delicate foliate decoration was a compositional device that led the eye lyrically from stone to stone; a simple, notched framing device usually enveloped the whole.
Having achieved significant success, Oakes nevertheless dreamt of creating a masterpiece, and he embarked on the fabrication of the jeweled casket seen here. He spent considerable time searching for the perfectly matched amethysts and pearls. Then, having assembled his materials with great care and expense from sources in Siberia, South America, and Asia, he faced his greatest technical challenge: incorporating the jewels without endangering the leafy settings or warping the silver walls. The box took more than nine months to complete and was exhibited to great acclaim in October 1929 at the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston.
Called “architectural in miniature” by the press, the casket was lauded as the artist’s crowning achievement. It was described as having a “cover designed in the spirit of a lightly vaulted roof with a large amethyst for the central dome.” The stepped placement of gemstones at each corner and below the handles suggests an Art Deco aesthetic underlying an Arts and Crafts philosophy of construction. Although Oakes made little hollowware during his career, the bejeweled box functions as a brooch “writ large” and is the magnum opus of a world-class jeweler. Exhibited just days before the stock market crash of October 1929, the box was never sold, although it was widely exhibited until its acquisition by the Museum.
Oakes trained his son Gilbert (1919 – 1987) in the craft and worked steadily until his death in 1960; nearly all seventy items shown at the artist’s final exhibition in 1959 at the society were purchased, offering proof of his abilities and a devoted clientele during some forty years.
This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.
Marked incuse with an oak leaf within which is stamped "OAKES" on the top corner of the rectangular silver plaque on the top of the base
By descent to the artist's children, Norma Oakes Errico and Gilbert Oakes (d. 1987), and the family of Gilbert Oakes.
Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously
Reproduced with permission.