Rebecca Cauman Rare and Important Sterling Silver, Enamel and Crackled Rock Crystal Covered Bowl or Box, Boston, c. 1927, exhibited at the Boston Society of Arts & Crafts Tricennial Exhibition held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 1 - 20, 1927
An outstanding example of American arts & crafts silver, this is one of the finest pieces made by Rebecca Cauman. Featuring a hand chased lid with a cracked rock crystal finial from which radiate twelve hand pierced, applied and enameled ovals, this covered bowl or box has a wonderfully planished surface which sparkles. It rests upon a spreading foot with hand chased, pierced and enamel decoration similar to the lid.
This wonderful covered bowl is marked underneath 'STERLING/ Cauman'. It measures 3.5 inches high, 5.5 inches in diameter, and weighs 22.2 troy ounces. It is in excellent condition although the rock crystal finial has been reattached.
Rebecca Cauman is listed as a Master Craftsman member of the Boston Society of Arts & Crafts after 1924, with a studio at 516 Atlantic Avenue in Boston.(1) Masters represented the highest level of craftsmanship at the society. She was an enameler and metal worker, and her enameling on copper is more commonly seen than her work in silver.
The catalog from the Society of Arts & Crafts 1927 exhibition lists item number 77 as a "Covered bowl, enamel lined, cover and base saw pierced and enameled, ball knob of crackled rock crystal". We have a photocopy of the original receipt which indeed documents that this is item number 77.
We also have a photocopy of the artist's statement by Cauman about the bowl. The crackled rock crystal finial came from Switzerland. Cauman felt the light of the crystal represented life and created the twelve radiating ovals to represent the tree of life, and the space between the ovals to represent its shadow. The yellow enamel on the cover and lining of the bowl also represent light and hence life. Modestly she states, "It is rather fun to work a definite meaning into a piece of work even though it is only a little candy box."
It is exceptional to have a masterpiece with this level of documentation remaining intact. While it is more common to see her enamel work on copper, she chose to show mainly silver at this exhibition. Clearly she felt her work in silver more important than copper or pewter. Cauman's pieces are rarely available and this is the only documented exhibition piece by her that we are aware of to come to market.
We quote from the forward of the Society of Arts & Crafts catalog to the 1927 exhibition:
The chief concern of this organization has always been to develop able craftsmen and to place their work before the buying public. Its ideal has not been to foster a large number of indifferent and mediocre workers but to build up a body of craftsmen capable of expressing beauty in its manifold forms.... The society has not sought to revive past styles or methods, but rather to revive the spirit of former times, to touch the craftsman again with the fire of enthusiasm for and devotion to his work; to waken once more his desire to express himself sincerely, availing himself of such facilities as this age has placed at his disposal.(2)
In this very rare documented piece of Cauman's work, exhibited after selection by a jury of her peers and mentors, we find an exceptional example of this credo.
Exhibition: The 1927 Boston Society of Arts & Crafts Tricennial Exhibition, exhibition number 77.
Literature:Tricennial Exhibition of the Society of Arts & Crafts in Celebration of the Thirtieth Anniversary of its Organization (Boston: The Merrymount Press, 1927).
Provenance: Primarily by descent in the family, who wish to remain anonymous.
Karen Evans Ulehla, Ed., The Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston Exhibition Record 1897-1927, (Boston: Boston Public Library), p. 48.
Tricennial Exhibition of the Society of Arts & Crafts in Celebration of the Thirtieth Anniversary of its Organization; (Boston: Merrymount Press, 1927,), p. viii.