Object Place: Cleveland, Ohio, United States
3.9 x 13.5 cm (1 9/16 x 5 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The small porringer spoon has a fig-shaped bowl. The lozenge-shaped handle tip is pierced with a naturalistic Art
Nouveau-style rendering of grasses.
Horace E. Potter, a native of Cleveland, was one of the city’s most accomplished and long-lived artists of the Arts and Crafts era. Potter studied under Louis Rorimer (1872 – 1939) at the Cleveland School of Art, graduating about 1898, and shortly thereafter traveled to Boston, where he studied at the Cowles School of Art and perhaps also the Amy Sacker School. While a student, Potter exhibited a “silk repeat” and a “wall-paper repeat” at the 1899 exhibition held by the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. It was in Boston that Potter came under the tutelage of Sacker (1876 – 1965), who taught decorative design at both schools, and perhaps crossed paths with fellow artists Laurin Martin (1875 – 1939), who had returned to Boston in 1898 from the Birmingham School of Art in England, Elizabeth Copeland (1866–1957), and Sarah Choate Sears (1858 – 1935), all of whom produced enameled metalwork and jewelry.
Potter traveled abroad shortly afterward, visiting the Guild of Handicraft in Chipping Camden, where he may have studied under Charles Robert Ashbee (1863 – 1942). While in England and through various publications, Potter undoubtedly became aware of the whiplash curves of Art Nouveau and Celtic interlace patterns that were popularized by Archibald Knox (1864 – 1933), designer for Liberty & Co. of London. Like his contemporaries Elizabeth Copeland and Augustus Rose (1873 – 1946), an educator in Providence, Rhode Island, Potter may have also met Alexander Fisher (1864 – 1936), who taught at the Central School of Art from 1896 to 1899 and privately thereafter. These English influences exerted a lasting influence on him.
Upon returning to Cleveland, Potter taught historic ornament at the Cleveland School of Art under Rorimer and established the first of several studios where he taught and created works of art; Jane Carson (Barron) was one of his more celebrated students. With his colleague Wilhelmina P. Stephan, also of Cleveland, Potter exhibited at the 1905 and 1906 Arts and Crafts exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago. Their goods included hollowware in silver and occasionally copper, some of which were enameled or set with semiprecious stones. They made syrup pitchers and trays, salt cups, bonbon spoons, and small desk accessories and jewelry. Prices for works shown in 1905 ranged from $8 for a spoon to $75 for a tea set made of silver and ebony or a bowl displaying a pierced and enameled border, with matching tongs. The enlargement of Potter’s workshop had taken place by 1908, when The Potter Shop was established in a remodeled grain house on the family farm in Cleveland.
H. E. Robus, H. R. Linn, and W. Burgdorff were three area artists whose names appeared under this rubric in a Cleveland exhibition catalogue of the same year. The shop became a center of activity for artists working in a variety of media. Ohio potter R. Guy Cowan (1884 – 1957) worked there for a time, as did metalsmith and enamelist Jane (Carson) Brown. Meanwhile, Potter’s affiliation continued with the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. He was elected a craftsman in 1907 and elevated to master status in 1908.
By that date, Potter occasionally took part in exhibitions, such as the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1914, but he apparently enjoyed sufficient support from local clientele to render participation in such venues unnecessary. His business grew until 1921, when Louis Mellen joined the firm, giving rise to the Potter-Mellen name, which was a favorite Cleveland destination for fine jewelry and luxury goods.
Like artists Josephine Hartwell Shaw (1865 – 1941), William Brigham (1885 – 1962), and Marie Zimmermann (1878 – 1972), Potter occasionally integrated the work of his colleagues and various exotic finds into his work. He set tiles by Ernest Batchelder into copper bookends and made a lid with accompanying spoon for a Marblehead bowl. It is unclear whether he obtained these materials directly from the artists, who were far from Cleveland, or through purchases. Potter also created new settings for non-Western discoveries, once creating a covered jar from a carved elephant tusk.
The MFA porringer (cat. no. 274) may have been part of a larger set that included a matching spoon and plate. The handle and matching spoon of one known set are decorated with a richly chased bunny and interlace pattern; deep yellow enamel was fired on the bowl’s interior. A “porringer, spoon and plate — Silver and enamel, Celtic Motif,” published in the catalogue for the 1908 exhibition at the Cleveland School of Art, seems to be the complete version of what was probably a child’s service. The spoon accompanying the porringer in the collection has a different design; however, because of their consignment to auction by the same source, it is possible they were once used as a set.
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 "POTTER / STUDIO" in arts and crafts-style lettering, on back of handle, above bowl.
Purchased at Skinner Auctions, sale 1871, October 3, 1998, lot 40, by Alexander Yale Goriansky, Boston, Massachusetts; given to the Museum in March 1999.
Gift in memory of Rosamond Foote Brown