Standing cup with cover

Richard Mawdsley (American, born in 1945)

Object Place: Carterville, Illinois, United States


Overall: 43.8 x 9.2 cm (17 1/4 x 3 5/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


Americas, Contemporary Art


Silver hollowware

The tall raised bowl has a gradually everted rim and is surmounted by a tall steeple-shaped lid composed of a low dome and three stages of increasingly smaller tubular assemblages. The bowl is supported from below by a smaller corresponding dome and tubular mass. The tall stem is composed of a male head with curly locks made of hollow wire; a head formed in repoussé; and a stylized torso and legs. The body and headdress are composed of narrow tubes that have been shaped and cut to emulate a machinelike appearance. The domed and splayed foot is capped by a second, smaller dome and tubular pattern that echoes the lid.

The mechanical, the miniature, and man have been the chief features of silver made by Richard Mawdsley. Since his graduation in 1969 from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, the artist has been preoccupied with using these subjects to create a microcosm of the world. Feast Bracelet (1974) was his first such work to attract national attention. More of a corsage than a bracelet, its principal feature is a “table” bearing a tiny teakettle on stand, a coffeepot, pouring and drinking vessels, a half-eaten berry pie, fruit, utensils, and linen, all fabricated by the artist. The lovingly detailed version of a Dutch still life won admiration. Critics hailed his precision in creating historical objects to scale as well as his uncanny ability to provide a dignified setting for the meal and its invisible guests, set within a futuristic environment.
The modernistic tubular elements that support and frame this standing cup with cover have come to dominate the artist’s work. He uses them to evoke the mechanical elements of farm machinery that first entranced him as a midwestern boy. In the 1990s, he fabricated giant water towers, for which tubular and related mechanical forms constitute the structural basis. The variation in shape and scale conveys the feel of a miniature, yet the overall result is one of enormity, as the viewer is drawn ever deeper into the object and the immense world conjured by the artist. Moreover, the machine-made appearance of his creations belies the months of painstaking benchwork required to complete them.
This standing cup with cover was inspired by ecclesiastical and Renaissance examples. Its stem is expressed in the form of a male figure whose chest is a virtual engine of machine tubing. The figure’s frontal pose and curly hair recall Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The vessel can be interpreted as a modern corollary to the progressive humanism of the fourteenth century.
The female form had been a subject for Mawdsley from the early years of his career, and in fact the Museum’s example began as such. The artist created female figures in repoussé (Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, 1976) and as a pendant with torso (Wonderwoman in Her Bicentennial Finery, 1976; Medusa, 1979 – 80; and Headdress, 1982).
The cup’s male figure offers an optimistic view of the mechanical world by virtue of its dignified presence. Although Mawdsley has moved away from depicting the figure in his water tower series, humanity’s place within these elaborate constructs can be gleaned from the tiny tools that are found scattered about the sculpture. The tools hint at the presence of workmen who have momentariy stepped away from the site. Like the cup’s central figure, they are reminders of the human dimension in a perfectly conceived “Mawdsleyan” world.

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.




“RM STERLING” and “SN /AG” struck on base.


Purchased by an anonymous donor in 1988 from Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and made a gift to the Museum.

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously


Reproduced with permission.