Exhibition is first-ever to showcase talented 19th-century silversmiths

Silversmiths to the Nation: Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner, 1808-1842 opens at Winterthur on July 4, 2008.

The landmark exhibition Silversmiths to the Nation: Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner, 1808-1842, on view at Winterthur Museum & Country Estate July 4-September 21, is the first ever to focus solely on the work of the Philadelphia silversmith firm, and will feature more than 100 objects created by Fletcher & Gardiner.  

 “Fletcher & Gardiner were the pre-eminent silversmiths in America in the early 19th century, as famous as Tiffany & Company is today,” said Donald L. Fennimore, Winterthur curator emeritus and co-curator of the exhibition.  “They were renowned for their dramatic presentation pieces for civic and military heroes.  Their style was distinctly American, and their stylish household silver and jewelry was in demand from customers throughout the United States.”  

 Fletcher and Gardiner began their careers in Boston in 1808 and moved to Philadelphia three years later. The firm remained in business until 1842, and they established a national reputation by virtue of several exceptional commissions, notably many celebratory objects created to commemorate War of 1812 events. They were also at the forefront of dramatic changes in the American silversmith’s workshop. Their talent and ambitions, coupled with increasing demands for dramatic high-quality silver, led to the firm adopting improved manufacturing techniques as well as innovative artistry.  

 Among the highlights in Silversmiths to the Nation:

 • A monumental silver urn awarded to Captain Isaac Hull of the frigate Constitution, the firm’s first military presentation commission.  

 • A selection of swords, medals, commemorative works, and military memorabilia.  

 • An extensive array of household and personal items including tea sets, pitchers, dinner services, a candelabrum, vases, and flatware that represent the quantity and variety of new stylish designs created by Fletcher & Gardiner.  

 One section of the exhibition will focus on innovations in silver construction that enabled the firm to evolve from historic craft shop practices to those of an entrepreneurial business. The extraordinary survival of business papers, personal letters, design drawings, and a travel journal preserve the firm’s history, which mirrored America’s coming of age as an independent commercial, industrial, political, and artistic presence.

 Silversmiths to the Nation was organized by Fennimore and Ann K. Wagner, associate curator of decorative arts at Winterthur.  A catalog of the same name, featuring essays by Fennimore and Wagner as well as other noted scholars including Deborah D. Waters (Museum of the City of New York), Cathy Matson (University of Delaware), and Beth Carver Wees (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), published by the Antique Collector’s Club, retails for $95.

 A symposium, “American Silver of the Early 19th Century,” will be held September 5-6 in conjunction with the exhibition. The symposium will address topics such as the European goldsmithing tradition, luxury goods in early 19th-century England, American jewelry of the 19th century, and early 19th-century Philadelphia silver and silversmiths. The cost is $340, $295 for Winterthur Members and professionals working for nonprofit organizations; and $225 for students.

 Following its appearance at Winterthur, Silversmiths to the Nation will travel to The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Fla., where it will be on display Nov. 21, 2008-Jan. 11, 2009.

 Principal financial support for the exhibition has been provided by Dr. Richard C. Weiss and Dr. Sandra R. Harmon-Weiss, The Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the William Cullen Bryant Fellows of The Metropolitan Museum of New York.  Additional financial support was provided by The Americana Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Richard R. Bressler, Mr. H. Richard Dietrich Jr., Friends of Winterthur, Inc., Mr. Denison H. Hatch, Mr. Robert L. McNeil Jr. and the Roy J. Zuckerberg Family Foundation.

 Winterthur Museum & Country Estate – known worldwide for its pre-eminent collection of American antiques, naturalistic garden, and research library for the study of American art and material culture – offers a variety of tours, exhibitions, programs, and activities throughout the year. Winterthur has been named one of the country’s “10 great places of historic proportions” by USA Today and “one of the 10 grandest mansions in America” by Budget Travel.

For more information, call 800-448-3883, or go online to www.winterthur.org.

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