Fred Miller (American, 1913–2000)
Object Place: Cleveland, Ohio, United States
3.7 x 4.6 cm (1 7/16 x 1 13/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The shaker was fabricated from a truncated cone of sheet silver that was soldered with a vertical seam. The wall of the vessel was hammered to create a convex bulge. Circles of sheet silver were planished slightly to create a shallow cup, which was then soldered to the top of the cone to form the top of the shaker. The base was formed of two narrow ring sections planished together over graduated steel rods, such that one ring was able to fit into the other. When trimmed, the larger of the two tubes was soldered to the base of the shaker; the smaller tube was soldered to a disk of silver to create a removable snap base.
Fred Miller was one of the most active and accomplished American silversmiths of his time, working steadily from the postwar era until the 1990s. Since his introduction to the craft in 1936, as a student at the Cleveland Art Institute, Miller was a committed artist and teacher. He specialized in raising and stretching hollowware into functional biomorphic forms. He was particularly influenced by Scandinavian modernism as well as the advances of modernism and abstraction during the 1940s and 1950s. Yet Miller was continually searching for a fresh approach. Inspired by organic natural forms, his silver is often energized by an asymmetrical dynamism. His most impressive aesthetic and technical accomplishment was a series of so-called bottle vases that were raised into partially closed forms.
Following discharge from the army in 1946, Miller visited silversmith studios along the eastern seaboard before joining the fine jewelry and hollowware firm of Potter and Mellen in Cleveland, Ohio. (Miller purchased the firm in 1967, serving as president and chief designer until 1977.) In 1948 he participated in the silversmithing conference sponsored by Handy and Harman, studying with Baron Erik Fleming.
In addition to his work with Potter and Mellen, Miller also maintained a long-standing relationship with the Cleveland Art Institute, where he served as an instructor in silversmithing and jewelry from 1948 until 1975. Between 1948 and 1971, the artist was also a frequent exhibitor in the silver division of the annual May Show, organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, garnering most of the top prizes in hollowware throughout that period.
As a measure of Miller’s skill with a hammer, photographs of him using the stretching method were illustrated in an article that featured silver made at the Handy and Harman conference. He later produced, with John Paul Miller, the film and booklet Contemporary Silversmithing — The Stretching Method, which was issued about 1952 by the Handy and Harman Craft Service Department.
As a result of his involvement with the Handy and Harman silversmithing workshop, Miller participated in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Handwrought Silver” exhibition of 1949. He later exhibited his work in the exhibitions “Fiber-Clay-and Metal” of 1953 and 1955 and “Objects: USA” of 1970. His silver is in the collections of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
These salt and pepper shakers were early examples of
Miller’s work, for which he won awards at the 1950 “May Show.” Designed for ease of handling, the deceptively simple forms required considerable handworkmanship to create the smooth concave and convex surfaces as well as the tight relationship of parts in the snap bases.
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.
“FM” in conjoined italics, “STERLING / STERLING [faint impression]” in sans-serif letters struck on base
The shakers were among a group of six objects that Miller entered into the 1950 “May Show” at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The group won the Special Award and the Horace E. Potter Memorial Award for excellence in craftsmanship. Purchased by Margret Craver Withers; made a gift to the Museum in 1987.
Gift of Margret Craver Withers