Object Place: Boston or Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, United States
Overall: 4.4 x 11.1 cm, 0.14 kg (1 3/4 x 4 3/8 in., 0.31 lb.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The raised bowl has a small rounded base and rises outward to a slightly everted rim; the foot ring is applied. A punched pattern of flowers and petals has been filled in with blue and white enamel.
Mary Catherine Knight was born in Flushing, New York, and passed her “childhood in the mountains of California.” She studied design and decoration at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, where she became a student of Mary C. Ware (later Dennett), a teacher of artistic leatherworking. After graduating in 1897, Knight was briefly employed in Providence as a designer for Gorham. In the meantime, Dennett moved to Boston, where she practiced her craft and became an influential member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. Shortly after her marriage in 1900, Dennett gave up her workshop and was instrumental in bringing Knight to run the society’s pioneering workshop beginning in 1902.
Handicraft Shop was conceived as the educational arm of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. Established in 1901, it was largely supported by the society’s first president, Arthur Astor Carey. The original intention was to offer classes and workspace for leather, wood, and metal crafts through Handicraft Shop, but the educational dimension was short lived, and metalworking rapidly became the sole focus. Knight served as chief designer, decorator, and silversmith.
Using leatherworking tools left to her by Dennett, Knight began to produce unique ornamental designs in silver. She produced delicate, repeating patterns — ranging in style from floral to strapwork, folk, and lace — expressed in a foliate vocabulary. Her silver was described in contemporary exhibition catalogues as “tooled,” evoking the origins of her decorative method. On occasion, Knight pierced her forms, adding to the lacy designs that were noted in the press. Enameling was also Knight’s specialty; blue and turquoise were her preferred colors. Small bowls, plates, and spoons were her typical forms, although she exhibited an enameled parasol in 1905.
Knight’s role at the shop was to design, raise, and decorate silver, while her coworkers focused on raising vessels. The cooperative nature of shop work was clarified in contemporary exhibition catalogues that explicitly noted the division of labor in the fabrication of an object. Knight is sometimes credited with being the “designer,” “maker,” and “exhibitor.” Other times, she is listed as the designer, and chief Handicraft Shop silversmith Karl Leinonen or their colleague Frans Gyllenberg was credited as the maker. Yet it seems likely that all Handicraft Shop silver bearing stamped patterns was decorated by Knight.
The interrelationship between Knight and other workshop members is evident when examining vessels made by her colleagues that are identical to ones she decorated. In the case of her enameled bowl (cat. no. 267), the form is the same as one crafted by Seth Ek (cat. no. 254). The punched charger in this entry is similar in execution and design to vessels marked solely by Leinonen.
Knight’s silver is sometimes unmarked, as in the enameled bowl, or struck with her “knight on horseback” mark as well as the Handicraft Shop mark. Knight appears in the exhibition record from 1904 until about 1911; she showed her work in Boston, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland. She remained a member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, until at least 1927, the last year in which membership records were kept.
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.
Descended in the family of silversmith George C. Gebelein (1878-1945), who worked with Knight at Handicrafts Shop. Purchased from the estate of the silversmith's son J. Herbert Gebelein (1906-1986) with funds provided by Gertrude Atwood.
Museum purchase with funds donated by Gertrude S. Atwood