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Robert R. Jarvie Extremely fine American arts & crafts silver presentation pitcher, Chicago, 1914, design attributed to George Elmslie


With tapered octagonal panels that flair out at the base, this presentation pitcher features some of the most dramatic 'Prairie' school designs we have seen in silver. The pitcher has two horizontal bands of geometric chased decoration which are carefully designed to accommodate the corners and spout. A bold rectangular handle completes the design.

In an artistic arts & crafts block lettering, it is inscribed on one side panel:
Presented By
Chicago
Live Stock World
Iowa
Poland China
Futurity
1914
Poland China is a breed of pig and a futurity is a contest or wager on the future. So this wonderful and important arts and crafts presentation piece was won by Harris Brothers, Iowa based Poland China breeders who had entered the contest before any of their entered pigs had been born. According to newspaper accounts, 'The beautiful hand wrought trophy of a solid silver pitcher actually costing $85, donated by the Live Stock World was greatly admired.'(1)

This very rare pitcher is marked underneath "STERLING', 'Jarvie' and '2084'. It measures 9.5 inches high and 7.75 inches across the handle and spout. It weighs 32.5 troy ounces and is in very good antique condition.

Robert Riddle Jarvie of Chicago was the single most important American arts & crafts metalsmith. He started his career at the turn of the century making copper and bronze floral-form candlesticks that have become iconic to the arts & crafts movement.

About 1910 he became a founding member of the Cliff Dweller's Club, a group of artistically minded Chicagoans, where he met the important Prairie school architect George Elmslie. With Cliff Dwellers' encouragement and patronage, Jarvie started fashioning objects in silver - producing some of the finest arts and crafts silver ever made. Many of his rare pieces are institutionally owned (see the Art Institute of Chicago's website).

Most of the silver produced in his shop dates from 1912 to 1914 and it is rare to find pieces as exciting as this pitcher. During this brief period he employed important artisan silversmiths, but his most important collaborator was architect George Elmslie. Jarvie's relationship with Elmslie was close, Elmslie's wife even possibly working in Jarvie's shop.(2)

George Elmslie worked for the famous Chicago architect Louis Sullivan as his principal draftsman (and by many accounts practically running the firm). Going out on his own as a partner in Purcell and Elmslie in 1907, Elmslie established himself as an important Prairie school architect, second only to Frank Lloyd Wright.

The motif used in the chased decoration of the pitcher can be found in other Elmslie designs. While most Elmslie designed windows are strictly rectilinear, two window designs from this period include this visual theme. One window set, from the Cross House of 1911, is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see here) and another set was designed for the 1912 sleeping porch in the Henry Babson house in Riverside, Illinois.(3)

Robert Jarvie was of Scottish descent and George Elmslie was born there. The easy familiarity between the decoration on this pitcher and that of designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow is a wonderful example of the collaborative nature of the world-wide arts & crafts movement which can also be seen in designs from the secessionist movement in Vienna.

Robert Jarvie's silver rarely comes on the market today, and pieces of this quality are now primarily in institutional collections. This is the finest example of silver from his shop that we are aware of coming on the market in many years.

Endnotes:
  1. 'Iowa Poland China Futurity Show' by A.M. Caldwell, Live Stock World September 3, 1914 p.6.
  2. 'Catalog Entry 140' by W. Scott Braznell in The Art that is Life: The Arts & Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920, Wendy Kaplan, Ed., (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1987), p. 278 and conversations with the author.
  3. 'Purcell and Elmslie, Architects' by Mark Hammons in Minnesota 1900: Art and Life on the Upper Mississippi 1890-1915, Michael Conforti, Ed., (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), p. 242.
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