Two-handled porringer

1933–1934
Katherine Pratt (American, about 1891–1978)


Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Dimensions

4.9 x 25.8 cm (1 15/16 x 10 3/16 in.)

Accession Number

1992.387

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The heavy raised porringer with well-defined dome at center has convex sides and a thick everted rim. The saw-cut keyhole-style handles are soldered to the rim along one axis.


The web of relationships in the giving of silver is exemplified in this two-handled porringer by Katharine Pratt. The donor, shoe manufacturer James Franklin McElwain, was related to Pratt through his wife, Mary Barton Pratt (1875 – 1953), who was a first cousin to the silversmith and a supporter of the art department where she taught. The porringer was intended as a baby gift for his namesake, James Franklin McElwain II.
Pratt studied metalsmithing under George Hunt at the Museum School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, graduating in 1914. The following year, she held an exhibit of her work at the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union (WEIU). A scholarship granted by the WEIU enabled her to continue her studies under George Christian Gebelein, a proponent of the colonial-revival style in New England. Pratt worked actively and showed her silver, participating in the 1927 exhibition of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston; she became a medalist of the society in 1931. She exhibited at the 1937 Paris Exposition des Arts et Techniques and received the diplôme de médaille d’or.
Pratt also served on the faculty of the Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, where she taught jewelrymaking and silversmithing from 1930 to 1949. The two McElwain children attended the progressive school, and their mother was especially supportive of the art department, which bears an engraved mantelpiece dedicated in her honor.
Most New England silversmiths working during the Arts and Crafts period had access to or images of eighteenth-century silver upon which to base their work, yet they romanticized its manufacture out of admiration for the preindustrial craftsman. As a result, their work is stylistically in the colonial style but Arts and Crafts in its approach to fabrication. The Pratt porringer is a case in point. Despite its conformity in scale and form to colonial Massachusetts single-handled porringers, it is easily identifiable as a twentieth-century product. It is made of unusually heavy-gauge silver and displays softly modulated hammer marks, unlike most colonial examples, which are of moderate weight and have well-planished surfaces. Pratt laboriously saw-cut the handles, whereas, in the colonial era, casting was a more rapid and preferred technique. A two-handled sandwich plate by Frans J. R. Gyllenberg and Alfred Henry Swanson is an updated version of the same form, also with saw-cut handles (cat. no. 262), and Gebelein produced a very rough, almost medieval, interpretation of the vessel, with geometric handles. Interestingly, all three Boston silversmiths chose to make variations on the two-handled porringer, a form that appeared infrequently in the colonies, in emulation of the French écuelle (which includes a cover). Collectively considered, these works illustrate three interpretations of the Colonial Revival in the close-knit Boston metalsmithing community and the choice of an archaic form over the ubiquitous American porringer.

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

Engraved in shaded roman capitals "J [pellet] F [pellet] M [pellet] II" on one handle facing bowl; in a circular design on base "JAMES FRANKLIN McELWAIN II FROM HIS GREAT UNCLE JAMES FRANKLIN McELWAIN; across center of bowl on base "DECEMBER 31, 1933."

Markings

Marked "STERLING / PRATT" in sans serif capitals under unengraved handle.

Provenance

The porringer was a gift from James Franklin McElwain (1874 – 1958) to his great-nephew and namesake (b. 1933), who was the son of Alexander McElwain (b. 1897) and Beatrice Christina Stevens, m. 1928. Subsequently sold at auction about 1992 in Foxboro, Massachusetts, where it was purchased by the donors and later made a gift.

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert F. Sacks