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Nut bowl and nut scoop
Carlyle H. Smith (American, 1912–2004)
Object Place: Princeton, New Jersey, United States
6.5 x 13.7 x 12.2 cm (2 9/16 x 5 3/8 x 4 13/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The elliptical vessel, with an asymmetrical emphasis, is soldered to a tall elliptical and angled base. The spoon consists of two overlapping oval forms that have been soldered together. The larger of the two has a shallow bowl, whereas the other serves as the handle.
Many of the artists in this chapter have spent their careers as teachers, and each can boast a devoted following of former students. Yet for personal modesty, high standards, and a broad-minded approach, Carlyle Smith holds a special place. He also forms an important link between the generation of silversmiths working during the Arts and Crafts period and those who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s. He studied with Augustus Rose (1873 – 1946), a pioneering professor in the field, and in the postwar era enthusiastically guided a diverse generation of young students.
Born in Connecticut, Smith studied metalsmithing with Rose at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, graduating in 1931. The Smith-Hughes Act, which funded part of his education, also required that he spend five years as a wage earner in a silversmithing shop before gaining a teaching certificate. This law was a distant echo of traditional apprenticeships, which typically involved seven years at the bench but no formal schooling. Although it was difficult to find suitable arrangements during the Depression, Smith was hired by Rose as an assistant in the Rose Metal Craft Shop, which he operated as an adjunct to teaching.
Smith later taught silversmithing to students in the Providence public school system, a position that may have been arranged by Rose, who, by this time, had initiated a manual arts training program in his post as school superintendent. Smith then taught in the public school system in Princeton, New Jersey, until 1947. That year, he was invited by Marjorie Whitney, then chair of the Design Department, to become the first professor of metalsmithing at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Before leaving Princeton for Kansas in 1947, Smith followed Whitney’s suggestion to attend the first Handy and Harman conference, organized by her former student, Margret Craver (cat. no. 335). To demonstrate his abilities as a metalsmith, Smith brought this silver nut bowl and spoon to his New York interview with Craver. The form’s lightly planished surface and stretched oval shape were avant-garde for the time, and he was accepted. His attendance at the conference was well timed, for it enabled him to take full advantage of the program taught that summer by William Bennett, professor at the College of Art in Sheffield, England, before setting off to teach on his own.
During his second year at the University of Kansas, Smith established a degree program in metalsmithing, the first such four-year program offered by a state university. During his
thirty-year career there, he left only briefly in 1965 to teach the first complete courses in silversmithing and jewelry at Costa Rica University. Upon his retirement in 1977, the department’s metalsmithing studio was named in his honor.
Richard Mawdsley (cat. no. 345), Brent Kington, and Robert Ebendorf (cat. no. 339) are among the many nationally acclaimed artists who learned their craft from Smith. Their widely divergent styles blossomed, in part, because he encouraged their creative growth and supported their efforts. Each artist contributed to the shift away from the modernist Scandinavian aesthetic, which had been the standard at some schools since the 1950s, and toward personal expression in metal.
Smith’s important commissions include a chalice for Trinity Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas; an abbot’s ring and pectoral cross made for St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas; and the chancellor’s collar with mace for the University of Kansas. During his brief tenure in Costa Rica, he produced a gigantic bronze sculpture for the Supreme Court building in San José.
Throughout his career, Smith focused his energies on teaching. For his students, he created the Alpha Rho Gamma Club, the Greek letters forming the beginning of the word argentum, Latin for “silver.” Under his direction, club members met educators, art historians, and commercial craftsmen, who provided them with guidance and opportunities in the field. He was a founding member of both the Kansas Designer-Craftsman exhibitions sponsored by the University of Kansas and the Society of North American Goldsmiths. Of all these activities, Smith has been most proud of producing several generations of well-trained students imbued with the confidence to shape the future of silver. Smith packed up his bench and gave away his tools upon retiring in 2002.
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.
“Smith 925” incised twice on base of bowl and once on back of spoon.
Retained by artist until made a gift to the Museum.
Gift of Carlyle and Isabelle Smith