© Summer 1999 Newsletter


Student Silversmiths Competition Update

Prizes, printed information, and entry forms will be mailed to the 120 design schools on our list. All entries must be postmarked no later than October 31, 2000. Updates will appear in future issues of SASnews, and for up-to-the-minute reports, visit our Competition 2000 page on the Web at www.silversmithing.com/1comp2.htm.

Nathanial Hurd: Boston Silversmith and Engraver

The Hurd family of Colonial Boston produced three distinguished silversmiths whose work continues to be prized to this day. Jacob Hurd (1702-1758), the patriarch of a family that included fourteen children, was highly regarded for his prodigious output of traditional silver forms, such as canns, cream pots, porringers and pepper boxes. At a time when the colonies still looked to England for fine craftsmanship, Jacob Hurd was establishing himself among the gentry, who soon came to think that his work was as fine as any that they could import from the mother country. Patrons whose names were associated with the burgeoning merchant and political classes in Boston, like Hancock and Bulfinch, visited his shop on Pudding Lane or in Cornhill to order work. Hurd provided them with elegant tea services and flatware that would serve as indicators of prestige and good breeding as well as marked safeguards of their wealth. Two of Jacob's sons, Benjamin (1739-1781) and Nathaniel (1730-1777), were also accomplished silversmiths. Of the three, the fewest pieces are found with Benjamin's mark on them, but all of them produced work that was owned by families as well as churches in the Boston area.

Nathaniel was most likely apprenticed to his father and learned his craft in his father's shop. His active years corresponded to the two decades prior to the American Revolution, a time when tension was building in Boston due to the imposition of restrictive laws, the presence of British troops to enforce compliance, and the resulting escalation of resistance and violence. As a silversmith, Hurd was not isolated from the chaos; he was allegedly accosted by a British soldier's bayonet immediately prior to the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770; as well, he served on the jury investigating the death of Crispus Attucks, an American killed in that skirmish between British soldiers and Boston rabble-rousers. Hurd's patrons were on both sides of the political coin. Of the pieces known to have been made by him, fewer date from the 1770s, which may reflect the economic as well as political anxiety of the time. Or, it may be that by then, his skills were being sought more often as an engraver.

Hurd was well known as an engraver of crests, arms and monograms on silver (including designs for work created by fellow silversmith Paul Revere) and he engraved bookplates for British officers and American patriots alike. Harvard University and Dartmouth College employed him to create their seals, and pieces of Massachusetts currency bear his engraved designs.

Hurd might well have been known only by the silver and engravings that survive him were it not for the fact that he had his portrait painted by John Singleton Copley. A miniature by Copley thought to be of Hurd is currently unlocated, but two portraits owned by the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, and the Cleveland Museum of Art convey the likeness of silversmith Hurd and raise some interesting questions about the role of portraits in the expression of social status. The Rochester portrait is unfinished; in it, Hurd has a somewhat enigmatic expression as he stares at a distant point, lost in thought. He is wearing the fashionable Turkish turban on his shaved head; he is clothed in a work shirt or an undergarment of some type. His face is carefully painted, while his chest and left arm remain incomplete, giving viewers the opportunity to study Copley's painting technique. Cleveland's portrait of Hurd is a much more finished version, in which, in addition to a turban he is clothed in the silk banyan, or dressing gown, which was the modish attire of a gentleman of means. On the table by his clasped hands sit two books; one is Guillam's Display of Heraldry, from which he took his designs.

Because not a great deal is known about the circumstances in which these portraits were created, it is interesting to speculate about the intent of the artist and the sitter, and what relationship the two paintings have to each other. Of course, to have one's portrait painted by Copley was a mark of status for the subject who commissioned the painting and who would subsequently own it. For whom was Hurd intending this portrait? He was not married, and had no children. Perhaps it was intended for his own home, or perhaps for one of his sisters or his nephew. It is unknown as well whether he actually paid Copley for the portrait or whether he traded a teapot or a cann for the painting. Unclear, also, is the relationship between the costumes of the subject in the two paintings. Perhaps the unfinished painting represents Copley's thinking about how best to represent an artisan, which would not be fully articulated until three years later in 1768, when he painted Revere's portrait. Nor is it known why the Memorial Art Gallery's version was left unfinished; perhaps Hurd was dissatisfied with the portrait's progress and requested that Copley begin again, this time representing him more recognizably as a gentleman and on a par with his patrons, rather than as an artisan. Perhaps the decision to begin again was Copley's, feeling that an informal portrait was not suitable. It remains curious that an unfinished painting, even by the great Copley, would have been saved. No other pair like this appears to exist. Neither portrait is mentioned in Hurd's will, suggesting that the two paintings were already in the hands of others by the time he settled his affairs.

Jacob Hurd died bankrupt in 1758. Benjamin Hurd died in 1781, leaving a will that inventories the various types of punches, tongs, and hammers that were used in his workshop, as well as other tools that had been bequeathed to him by his brother Nathaniel, who predeceased him by four years. Nathaniel's will also leaves his “large printing press & some tools [to his nephew John Furnass] in consideration for the love I bear to him, & the genius he discovers for the same business which I have followed & to which I intended to have brought him up to.” Benjamin and Nathaniel are buried in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston, right across the path from the grave of Paul Revere.

For additional information, consult Jacob Hurd and His Sons Nathaniel and Benjamin, Silversmiths, 1702-1781, by Hollis French, published by Da Capo Press, and Patricia Kane's outstanding new reference volume Colonial Massachusetts Silversmiths and Jewelers, published in 1998 by Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.

An exhibition at Memorial Art Gallery, featuring the Rochester and Cleveland Copley portraits of Nathaniel Hurd, as well as Hurd silver, engravings and related materials on loan from other institutions, will run from November 23,1999 through mid-2001. The exhibition has been supported by grants from the Museum Loan Network, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and private donations.

The above text was written by Marjorie B. Searl, Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 500 University Ave., Rochester, New York 14607, 716/473-7720, www.rochester.edu/mag.

Antique Silver Resources

From time to time the Society is contacted by silver lovers looking for antique sterling. Below are respected dealers who carry active and discontinued flatware, holloware, and unusual pieces; they also offer pattern matching and maintain want lists.

As You Like It Silver Shop, 3033 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70115, 800/828-2311, 504/897-6915, and their shop at Stanton Hall Carriage House, 410 N. Commerce St., Natchez, MS 39120, 800/848-2311, 601/442-0933, E-mail: ayliss@bellsouth.net, Web site: www.cris.com/~ayliss.

Beverly Bremer Silver Shop, 3164 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30305, 800-270-4009, 404/261-4009, E-mail: sterlingsilver@worldnet.att.net, Web site: www.beverlybremer.com.

Carman’s Collectables, 9 Elm Ln., Levittown, PA 19054, 215/946-9315, Web site: www.carmanscollectables.com, E-mail: carmansc@aol.com. Also carrying silver plate.

Rare Discoveries, 815-A Brazos #454, Austin, TX 78701, 512/462-0460, E-mail: silver@2die4.com, Web site: www.RareDiscoveries.com.

Artisan Happenings

Billie Jean Theide recently curated the exhibition “Contain-ment” for Southern Illinois University Art Museum in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Billie received an Honorable Mention in the “Arrowmont National '99” at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and an award in “National Crafts 1999” at the Lancaster Museum of Art in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She also received a 1998-99 $5,000 Artists Fellowship Grant from the Illinois Arts Council for outstanding work in crafts (metal). She will use the money for studio expenses.

Thomas Muir received the Challenge Award (Best of Show) in the Ohio Designer Craftsmen “Best of 1999” exhibition for a tazza he created. The show opened in May at the Ohio Craft Museum in Columbus, and is currently on view through the end of August at the Southern Ohio Museum, Portsmouth, Ohio.

Munya Avigail Upin recently taught “Woven Metal Techniques” workshops at the SNAG Conference in St. Louis, the Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association Conference at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, and the North-East Enamel Guild at the Newark Museum in New Jersey. She will be teaching the same workshop at “Metalwerx” in Woburn, Massachusetts, on Oct. 23-24, and again at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, Nov. 6-7.

Munya recently finished a commission for a sterling and fine silver lulav holder for Temple Beth El in Providence, Rhode Island.

Hot off the press is her brochure, representing a new Judaica line, which is a limited-edition series. For a copy, write to M. Avigail Upin, 41 Waverley St., Belmont, MA 02478-1958, or E-mail: munya@m-avigail-upin.com.

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