This exhibition traces America’s love affair with sterling silver. Silver began as a rare luxury for the elite in colonial times and became a hugely popular commodity in the Victorian era, attracting millions of American consumers. By 1900, silver had triumphed in America; production was at its peak, and sterling silver objects could be found in the majority of American households. By 2000, however, the American silver industry had collapsed, and its principal factories were gone, a victim of changing American lifestyles. Silversmithing lives on today in America as an art form, with silver objects collected by people who value craftsmanship and design. In this way, silver has come full circle, and is now as luxurious and rare as it was in the colonial period.
Amazingly, the meaning of silver in American life has changed very little over 350 years. Silver has always implied wealth and conferred status on those who own it. It has always been appreciated for its beautiful color and shine—the maintenance of which played a major role in its decline in the American home.
The exhibition also celebrates a quarter-century of collecting silver at the Newark Museum. Between 1980 and 2005, the Museum has been fortunate to have added many significant examples of American silversmithing to the collection here. You will also be able to find important silver in the House & Home galleries, and in the Picturing America galleries, both adjacent to this exhibition.
–Curated by Ulysses Grant Dietz, Curator of Decorative Arts