Olaf Skoogfors (American (born in Sweden), 1930–1975)

Object Place: Rochester, New York, United States


28.6 x 16.2 cm (11 1/4 x 6 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Silver, rosewood

On View

The 1940s and 1950s (Gallery 336)


Americas, Contemporary Art


Silver hollowware

The tall, cylindrical, seamed coffeepot of elongated pear form is seamed behind the handle. The cast silver handle brackets have a shaped rosewood insert. A forged spout with applied lip is seamed on the upper section. The form spreads, leaflike, against the body of the vessel, and its shape echoes the mouth of the spout. The friction-fitted lid has an inner flange and a slightly domed lid. A circular finial of silver and turned rosewood extends upward and outward to a flat silver top. A defect in the seamed body is evident near base.

Olaf Skoogfors was one of this country’s most promising metalsmiths. His rigorous training and personal vision made him legendary among his peers long before his untimely death at age forty-five. Born Gustav Olaf Jansson in Bredsjo, Sweden, the artist and his family immigrated in 1934 to Wil-mington, Delaware, where many immigrant Swedes had made their home. Upon becoming a U.S. citizen in 1945, his father, Gustav, changed the family name to Skoogfors, meaning “forest stream.” The artist retained his birth name until attaining citizenship in 1955, when he legally became Olaf Gustav Skoogfors.
Following a brief stint in Sweden as a draftsman, Skoogfors returned to the United States, and, in 1949 he entered the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (formerly the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art), graduating in 1953. He studied metalsmithing and jewelry with Virginia Wireman Cute (later Curtin) (1908 – 1985) (cat. no. 337) and Richard Reinhardt (1921 – 1998). From 1951 to 1953, he exhibited in the sixth, seventh, and eighth “National Decorative Arts/Ceramics” exhibitions held in Wichita, Kansas. “The Wichita Nationals,” as they came to be known, provided a rare opportunity for craftsmen to compete and exhibit nationally; Skoogfors received honorable mention in 1951 and 1953. He exhibited as well in the 1953 Young Americans exhibition at America House in New York City.
Skoogfors married the artist Judith Gesensway, daughter of musician Louis Gesensway, in 1954. Their marriage took place at the Radnor, Pennsylvania, home of magazine publisher Curtis Bok, which was designed by Wharton Esherick (1887 – 1970). The next year, the couple moved to Rochester, New York, where Skoogfors continued his education at the School for American Craftsmen in the Rochester Institute of Technology. There, he studied under Hans Christensen (1924 – 1983) and established lifelong friendships with such metalsmiths and jewelers as Svetozar (b. 1918) and Ruth Clark Radakovich (b. 1920); Ronald Hayes Pearson (1924 – 1996); and John Prip (b. 1922) (cat. no. 354).
Following Skoogfors’s graduation in 1957, the couple re-turned to Philadelphia, where he established a private studio and began teaching. Beginning in 1959, he served first as a part-time instructor at his alma mater, renamed the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now Universtiy of the Arts). He was appointed full professor in 1971. Skoogfors actively showed his work along with that of fellow professors, book artist Claire van Vliet; ceramicist William Paley; and furnituremaker Dan Jackson. Notable exhibitions include “Schmuck 70: Tendenzen at the Schmuckmuseum” in Pforzheim, Germany, “Jewelry by Olaf Skoogfors” at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York (1968); and “Objects: U.S.A.,” the landmark 1969 exhibition of the Johnson Wax Collection of Contemporary American Crafts. In addition, Skoogfors was a member of the First World Congress of Craftsmen, held by the World Craft Council (1964), and was a founding member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (1970).
Best known for his jewelry, Skoogfors was hailed for his abstract and sometimes enigmatic art. He created many pieces using the lost-wax casting process. Tyler School of Art professor Stanley Lechtzin has noted Skoogfors’s close relationship to painters among the wider art community. This rapport may have influenced the reticulated surface and frontal emphasis of his work. Lechtzin observed that Abstract Expressionism especially informed Skoogfors’s jewelry.

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.




On base, are incuse, sans serif touchmarks "HANDWROUGHT / STERLING / OS," the latter within an oval device.


From the collection of the artist's widow, Judy Skoogfors.

Credit Line

Gift of Judith Skoogfors


Reproduced with permission.