Masterwork

1868
Arthur Stone (American, born in England, 1847–1938)


Object Place: Gardner, Massachusetts, United States

Dimensions

Overall: 13.9 x 19.6 x 1 cm (5 1/2 x 7 11/16 x 3/8 in.)

Accession Number

1978.306

Medium or Technique

Copper

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Metalwork

The three-part demonstration piece has a flat-chased strapwork design, a shield with a grotesque mask in bas-relief, and a chased and repousséd bouquet with a tulip, a lily, and a chrysanthemum. The corners of the plaque have been clipped, and pitch is retained in the recesses on the reverse.


When Arthur Stone finished his indenture and apprenticeship in 1868, the ancient custom of presenting a demonstration piece to the goldsmith’s guild for admission as a master craftsman was no longer practiced. Nonetheless, Stone created this “masterwork” to illustrate that he had successfully mastered the required skills and fully earned the honor. This copper relief reveals his competence as a chaser and designer of chased ornament, skills that would later distinguish him from his contemporaries.
Today, Stone is widely recognized as America’s foremost Arts and Crafts silversmith. He was born in England and, from the age of fourteen, trained as an apprentice under Edwin Eagle; during his indenture, he also attended evening classes at the National School of Design, Sheffield. Stone was strongly influenced by William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement. Having engaged in much independent study at John Ruskin’s Museum, he was involved in the formation of the Sheffield Society of Arts and Crafts.
Discouraged by the reliance of local silver manufacturers on machines and the strict division of labor among craftsmen, Stone took hope in the promises offered by American advertisements trying to lure talented young silversmiths from England. He moved to the United States in 1884. His familiarity with the Arts and Crafts style proved instrumental in encouraging New England’s interest in and perpetuation of historical crafts. He worked first for William B. Durgin Co. in Concord, New Hampshire, before moving in 1887 to Gardner, Massachusetts, to become designer, salesman, and manager of the hollowware department at the newly formed Frank W. Smith Company. In 1895 he moved to New York City to become a partner with J. P. Howard, a silversmith and retailer. By 1897 Stone had returned to Gardner, presumably to establish his own business and a home with his new wife, widow Elizabeth Bent Eaton, of Gardner. She became a valuable partner and business manager; with her independent means and “rare business ability,” she was instrumental in keeping the shop open and active during the Depression.
Stone was engaged to create some of Boston’s most important commissions, collaborating with imminent architects and designers on ecclesiastical and presentation pieces. Domestic wares, which formed the bulk of his production, were made with the assistance of apprentices. Between 1901 and 1936, Stone employed as many as twelve silversmiths. The atmosphere in the studio was most congenial; his employees recalled their loyalty to their paternalistic employer, who shared profits semiannually and allowed individual craftsmen to add their own mark beside that of their master. Stone encouraged his staff’s personal and professional development by arranging study trips and sponsoring their memberships in the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. Several achieved master status, and three became medalists, the society’s highest award. The quality of their skill and craftsmanship is evident in many works from Stone’s shop that are now in the Museum’s collection. Stone also contributed to the development of the careers of at least two recognized women artists, designer Charlotte Bone and silversmith Margret Craver. After suffering a disabling stroke in 1926, Stone relied increasingly on assistants to execute his designs and on draftsmen, such as Bone, to provide working drawings for his craftsmen.
Stone’s involvement with the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, was considerable. In 1913 he was one of three craftsmen to receive the society’s inaugural Medal of Honor. He was the first metalsmith to earn this honor acknowledging his mastery of the medium, his profound commitment to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, and his role in furthering the influence of the society both locally and nationally. Both husband and wife were active members in the society. Stone participated in its annual exhibitions and served as vice president; his wife gave lectures and wrote articles. He sold his wares primarily through the society’s Boston and New York stores; he rarely sold wares from his Gardner shop, and then only to neighbors and close friends. Later he retailed stock items and flatware through the Little Gallery in New York City, John Kay in Detroit, and the Arts and Crafts Guild of Philadelphia, of which he was also a member.
Stone was closely associated with the Museum of Fine Arts as well and was given permission to study, measure, and reproduce several pieces of American silver in the collection. About 1928, through Harvard’s University Film Foundation, he helped the Museum produce a documentary of the silversmith’s craft. Today, the Museum is the institution of record for this craftsman, with a representative collection of his production as well as a complementary study collection. Stone retired in 1937, at the age of ninety. He died five months later.
Henry Heywood took over the shop in October 1937, calling it “The Stone Silver Shop,” and subsequently “Stone Associates.” Heywood continued to produce a number of Stone designs, with the assistance of some former employees, until he closed the establishment in 1957, and Ernest Lehtonen took over the flatware business and the Stone mark.

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.

Inscription

None.

Markings

“A J STONE” scratched on front; “AJS/1868” scratched on reverse.

Provenance

Arthur and Elizabeth Bent Stone estate to their companion Annie E. Priest (1872 – 1972); by descent to Alma Bent (about 1921 – 1992), Stone’s cousin, who donated it to the Museum.

Credit Line

Gift of Miss Alma Bent in memory of Annie E. Priest