Henry Petzal (1906–2002)
Object Place: Shrewsbury, New Jersey, United States
21.5 cm (8 7/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The raised spherical jar with an applied rim bears an abstracted repousséd and chased design of leaves and flowers. The base is supported by an applied splayed foot with an applied vertical foot rim. The gently sloped, bell-shaped lid rises to a malachite finial.
Silversmith Henry Petzal came to his craft late in life. Born in Berlin, Petzal immigrated to the United States in 1935 and established himself in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, where he enjoyed a successful career as an executive in the textile industry. Several years before his retirement in 1963, he discovered a natural facility with metal and began attending classes at the New York City YMCA on Fiftieth Street, where Rudolph Schumacher and William Seitz taught him raising. At the Craft Students League, he learned chasing from Adda Husted Andersen.
Petzal developed contemporary interpretations of historic silver forms, as found in the scalloped trays and plates; other works are reminiscent of Chinese pottery (cat. no. 352). He relieved silver’s monochromatic surface tone with finials made of semiprecious stones. He strove to attain a three-dimensional quality, as attested to in the leafy candlesticks (cat no. 351); his bold chased decoration could be read at ten paces, lending a scale to silver not yet seen in the twentieth century. He devised some ninety forms, which he numbered and reproduced on commission, but never exceeded each design by more than eight examples.
Thanks to his natural facility with the hammer and good business sense, Petzal soon found favor with such elite American shops as Tiffany & Co. and Cartier in New York; Caldwell and Co. of Philadelphia; and Shreve, Crump & Low in Boston. After he moved north to Lenox, Massachusetts, his work was exhibited regionally at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1970); the Berkshire Museum (1974); the Lawrence Art Museum (now the Williams College Museum of Art) (1975); and the Currier Gallery of Art, which in 1984 organized a one-man exhibition, with accompanying catalogue, of Petzal’s work.
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.
“HP” monogram and “HANDWROUGHT” and “STERLING,” in sans-serif letters, struck incuse in various locations on base.
Retained by the artist until made a gift in 1979.
Gift of Henry Petzal
© Henry Petzal