John Prip (American, 1922–2009)
Object Place: Rochester, New York, United States
15.8 x 27.5 x 18.5 cm (6 1/4 x 10 13/16 x 7 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Silver, ebony, rattan
The 1940s and 1950s (Gallery 336)
The onion-shaped teapot is in the form of a compressed sphere, from which the central cover and finial rise. The woven rattan handle forms a whiplash curve that widens before turning inward to the body. The cone-shaped lid seats seamlessly in the vessel’s bezel-set opening. An ebony finial is shaped to meet the lid, extending vertically in a trumpet form.
Prototype for teapot produced by Reed & Barton.
John Prip is a pivotal figure in the history of American studio silver. Born in New York to a Danish metalsmithing family, Prip was a fourth-generation metalsmith familiar from childhood with workshop activities. His family returned to Denmark while Prip was a young child; he later attended Copenhagen Technical College, where for five years he was apprenticed to Evald Nielson, graduating in 1942. He continued to build on his considerable technical skills between 1945 and 1948 while working for the family business and other Danish concerns. In 1948, at age twenty-six, he was recruited to head the metals department at the newly founded School for American Craftsmen (SAC) in Alfred, New York.
The school was an outgrowth of several crafts organizations spearheaded by Aileen Osborn Webb (1892 – 1979), founder of the Handicraft League of America, the American Craftsman’s Council, and the Contemporary Craft Museum (now the Museum of Arts & Design). Webb’s concern with the loss of traditional craft techniques, coupled with the return of many veterans in need of job training or rehabilitation, led to the school’s creation in 1948. In their choice of Prip, the school was fortunate to engage an artist who had been thoroughly trained in all aspects of metalsmithing yet was willing to explore new forms and challenge functional aspects of the craft.
Prip left SAC in 1954 to pursue consulting and design work. He worked for a few years at Shop One, an early craft gallery that he established with professor and furnituremaker Tage Frid, potter Frans Wildenhain, and former student silversmith Ron Pearson. He taught during the early 1960s at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, during the tenure of Joseph Sharrock, while continuing to search for a different manner in which to express himself.
It was in the short-lived role of designer-craftsman that Prip saw the next chapter of his career unfold. Upon the recommendation of James S. Plout, first director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, to Roger Hallowell, then company president, he joined Reed & Barton, the silver manufacturer based in Taunton, Massachusetts. Following developments at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning in the late 1920s, Plout had created a Design in Industry department in 1948 to foster partnerships between rising designers and manufacturers. Reed & Barton was the first company to participate, and Ronald Hayes Pearson (1924 – 1996), Prip’s colleague from SAC, was among the first “Institute Associates” of 1955. It was through these associations that Prip’s name came forward as company designer.
During his tenure as designer/craftsman-in-residence, Prip produced several designs for domestic wares that marked the brief union of craftsmen with industry during the 1950s and 1960s. This teapot, called the “onion teapot” by the artist, was made in Rochester in 1954. It was shown in 1957 to Reed & Barton as an example of Prip’s abilities. Shortly after he joined the company, the teapot became a signature piece for the production of Dimension hollowware and flatware. The technical skills needed to create the teapot exemplify Prip’s exacting Danish training. However, his form and design solutions, such as the extended hinge and the tension achieved in the attenuated accents of the handle and finial, mark him as an innovative silversmith of first rank.
In 1963 Prip joined the faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design, where he taught until his retirement in 1980. He retained his affiliation with Reed & Barton, however, producing the Tapestry flatware pattern in 1964. He retired from the company in 1970.
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.
Three heart-shaped symbols in a row above “STERLING” in sans-serif letters, struck incuse on base.
Retained in artist’s personal collection until purchased by the donors as a gift to the Museum.
Museum purchase with funds donated by Stephen and Betty Jane Andrus
Reproduced with permission.