William E. Brigham (documented) Rare and Important American Arts & Crafts Amethyst and Sterling Silver Covered Urn set with semiprecious stones, Providence, RI, 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 extraordinary example of an American arts & crafts "objet de virtue", this silver and amethyst urn was made by one of the most important and influential masters of his craft during the arts & crafts period. The amethyst urn is mounted with a silver base and rim with applied beading and set with yellow sapphires. A separate domed lid is similarly set with yellow sapphires and finished with a mounted pink tourmaline as a finial.
It measures 2.6 inches high and is in excellent condition.
Clearly influenced by renaissance designs, Brigham's use of amethyst is in keeping with that period. Before the discovery of deposits in Brazil, amethyst was one of the most precious stones. Highly desirable for its color, amethyst was also used for vessels during the renaissance because of the widely held belief that it stopped the inebriating effects of alcohol.
William Edward Brigham (1885-1962) was one of the most important jewelers and teachers working during the arts and crafts movement. Of independent means, he was able to travel to Europe where he made detailed drawing of many renaissance treasures which were to inspire his later work.(1) A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he also studied at Harvard. After starting the arts & crafts department at the Cleveland School of Art, he returned to RISD in 1914 where he led the Department of Decorative Design until 1927 when he retired.(2) In 1936 he was awarded The Medal of Excellence in Craft by the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, the highest honor bestowed by the society - one of only seven jewelers to receive that honor.(3)
Brigham did not sign his work; hence, documentable examples of his work are very rare. We have a photocopy of the original bill of sale for this piece, documenting that this is item number 69 exhibited at the Boston Society of Arts & Crafts Tricennial Exhibition held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 1 - 20, 1927.
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.(4)
William E. Brigham spent his life espousing this credo. Here we have a very rare documented example of his work made at the height of his career. Not only is this urn documentable, but Brigham felt it was such an excellent example of his work that he chose to show it at an important exhibition juried by his peers and mentors.
Exhibition: The 1927 Boston Society of Arts & Crafts Tricennial Exhibition, exhibition number 69.
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.
- Jeannine Falino, 'Circles of Influence: Metalsmithing in New England', in Inspiring Reform: Boston Arts & Crafts Movement, consulting curator Marilee B. Meyer (Wellesley, MA: David Museum and Cultural Center, 1997), p. 83.
- Marilee B. Meyer, consulting curator, Inspiring Reform: Boston Arts & Crafts Movement, (Wellesley, MA: David Museum and Cultural Center, 1997), pp. 207-8.
The Society of Arts and Crafts Medal for Excellence in Craft Award 1997 Recipient Jonathan L. Fairbanks, (Boston: The Society of Arts & Crafts, 1997), n. p.
Tricennial Exhibition of the Society of Arts & Crafts in Celebration of the Thirtieth Anniversary of its Organization, (Boston: Merrymount Press, 1927), p. viii.