Jeweled casket

1929
Edward Everett Oakes (American, 1891–1960)


Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Dimensions

13.5 x 20.1 x 16.1 cm (5 5/16 x 7 15/16 x 6 5/16 in.)

Accession Number

2000.628.1a-b

Medium or Technique

Silver, green gold, 143 amethysts, 86 Japanese pearls, 88 onyx; laurel wood base

On View

Lorraine and Alan Bressler Gallery (Gallery 222)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The rectangular paneled box is made of silver, green gold, 143 amethysts, 86 Japanese pearls, and 88 onyx, set on a laurel base. It has a hinged, slightly domed lid and round and faceted amethyst ball feet and sits on a narrow, two-tiered, shaped wooden plinth. Round columns form each of the four corners. Two pairs of channel-set amethysts intersect across the lid to create nine panels, at the center of which is a large faceted, elliptical amethyst, from which radiates rays of onyx and pearls. The amethyst bands continue down the sides of the box, where they flank triangular clusters of amethysts, onyx, and pearls; large rectangular amethysts form two shallow handles on the sides as part of these designs. At the base of each corner is a vertical cluster of graduated, rectangular onyx settings with pearls and auricular metalwork. Clusters of delicate gold foliate decoration are found throughout, and large pearls are featured prominently on the lid, at intersections of the amethyst bands and on each corner.
The box is completely finished on the interior, allowing the user to see the amethysts that adorn the exterior inside the box and lid. Additional pearls mounted with supporting gold settings adorn the lid interior. Concave onyx settings in each corner of the lid are complemented by faceted amethyst stones lodged at the top of the four corner columns. A rectangular wooden tray with silver, gold, pearl, and onyx fittings rests inside. The interior of the base, including the tray, is lined with black velvet.

This number refers to box and its interior tray. The artist also made a walnut box in which to store the jeweled casket (unnumbered).


Jeweler Edward Everett Oakes was a prominent member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston. He began his training in 1909 with Boston jeweler Frank Gardner Hale (1876 – 1945), who had studied silversmithing and enameling with C. R. Ashbee, an English designer and utopian visionary. Oakes spent another three years working with Josephine Hartwell Shaw (1865 – 1941), a Pratt Institute – educated jeweler, before embarking on his own long career in 1917. Hale provided Oakes with a Renaissance design vocabulary, whereas Shaw offered a more sensitive appreciation of color, texture, and suitability to the client.
While training with Shaw, Oakes was elected to craftsman membership by the society, and in 1917 he was advanced to master craftsman. A prolific artist, Oakes became a member of the society’s Jewelers’ Guild, showing his work regularly at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and similar locations nationwide. In 1923 the society awarded him the Medal of Excellence, their highest honor, and that same year the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased a tasseled pendant from him.
Employing a naturalistic, asymmetrical style, Oakes selected moonstones, popular among Arts and Crafts artists, along with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and other richly colored stones, which he set amid tiny leaves he fabricated by hand (fig. 4). His delicate foliate decoration was a compositional device that led the eye lyrically from stone to stone; a simple, notched framing device usually enveloped the whole.
Having achieved significant success, Oakes nevertheless dreamt of creating a masterpiece, and he embarked on the fabrication of the jeweled casket seen here. He spent considerable time searching for the perfectly matched amethysts and pearls. Then, having assembled his materials with great care and expense from sources in Siberia, South America, and Asia, he faced his greatest technical challenge: incorporating the jewels without endangering the leafy settings or warping the silver walls. The box took more than nine months to complete and was exhibited to great acclaim in October 1929 at the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston.
Called “architectural in miniature” by the press, the casket was lauded as the artist’s crowning achievement. It was described as having a “cover designed in the spirit of a lightly vaulted roof with a large amethyst for the central dome.” The stepped placement of gemstones at each corner and below the handles suggests an Art Deco aesthetic underlying an Arts and Crafts philosophy of construction. Although Oakes made little hollowware during his career, the bejeweled box functions as a brooch “writ large” and is the magnum opus of a world-class jeweler. Exhibited just days before the stock market crash of October 1929, the box was never sold, although it was widely exhibited until its acquisition by the Museum.
Oakes trained his son Gilbert (1919 – 1987) in the craft and worked steadily until his death in 1960; nearly all seventy items shown at the artist’s final exhibition in 1959 at the society were purchased, offering proof of his abilities and a devoted clientele during some forty years.

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

None.

Markings

Marked incuse with an oak leaf within which is stamped "OAKES" on the underside of box.

Provenance

By descent to the artist's children, Norma Oakes Errico and Gilbert Oakes (d. 1987), and the family of Gilbert Oakes.

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously

Copyright

Reproduced with permission.