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American Silver Lecture Series at the Clark

For Immediate Release

February 11, 2000

From teapots and tankards to snuff boxes and swords, silver played a daily role in the affluent Colonial American home. The collection of the late Henry Morris Burrows and his wife Elizabeth H. Burrows encompasses a wide range of American silver from the Colonial and Federal periods, providing an opportunity to explore not only the objects themselves but the lives and customs of the people who created and used them.

Over one-hundred-fifty-five pieces from the Burrows' extensive collection will provide a glimpse into early American life through the exhibition "A Fresh and Large Assortment": American Silver from the Burrows Collection, on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute from February 13 to April 30, 2000. "This important collection of silver, which the Burrows began more than sixty years ago, has continued to grow, with thirty-seven purchases made over the past decade, and now includes three-hundred-sixty works." says director Michael Conforti. "We are delighted that our good friend Mrs. Burrows is now allowing us to celebrate this remarkable collection on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its long-term loan to the Clark."

Advertisements placed by eighteenth-century silversmiths often described their wares as "fresh," "large" and "neat" assortments, descriptions which certainly apply to the Burrows silver. Assembled over a period of sixty years, the Burrows collection encompasses a wide variety of forms, including dining, drinking, church, and presentation pieces, ranging in date from 1652 to 1899.

All three major centers of American silver production-Boston, Philadelphia, and New York-are represented, as are a number of provincial areas including Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Baltimore, Maryland. Among the master silversmiths whose work is featured in "A Fresh and Large Assortment" are Paul Revere II, Jacob Hurd, Myer Myers, and Joseph and Nathaniel Richardson.

Rather than focus solely on form and design, Clark curator of decorative arts Beth Carver Wees has chosen to explore the world of the people who created, owned, and used the silver on view. "For prosperous early American families, everyday life included contact with silver," says Wees. "Not only were silver coins used as currency, but objects of personal adornment, drinking, dining and tea wares, as well as gifts of recognition were crafted in this precious metal. Silver proudly displayed the wealth and social standing of its owners. Beyond the merely functional, silver was prized for its ability to capture the flavor of the historical moment and something of the personality of the owner."

Among the highlights of "A Fresh and Large Assortment" are several monogrammed pieces that originally belonged to Christopher Marshall, the famed Revolutionary War diarist, and his wife. A pair of neo-classical sauce tureens, made in 1817 by Baltimore silversmith Andrew Ellicott Warner, were commissioned for presentation to Commodore Stephen Decatur, the naval war hero whose feats included the burning of the captured ship "Philadelphia" in the Barbary Wars, and the capture of the British war ship "Macedonia" in the War of 1812. The owners of silver were not alone in their claims to fame.

"A Fresh and Large Assortment" also delves into the world of the silversmith both in and out of the workshop. Beyond being craftsmen and merchants, silversmiths played important roles in their communities, holding political and military offices or positions in religious and civic organizations. To ensure their income many silversmiths diversified into other occupations, such as keeping taverns, making false teeth, or even counterfeiting. "In general, silversmiths were regarded as individuals of high reputation, honest businessman, and prominent citizens," notes Wees.

Perhaps the most prominent citizen/silversmith of all is Paul Revere II (1734-1818). A section of the exhibition is devoted to Revere, who in 1754 inherited the Boston workshop of his French Huguenot father Paul Revere I. Most famous for his midnight ride on April 18, 1775, Revere was active in political, military, and civic organizations including the Sons of Liberty and the Freemasons. Following the American Revolution Revere, the entrepreneur, branched into other fields in addition to silversmithing, including bell and cannon manufacturing, printing, dentistry, and copper rolling. "A Fresh and Large Assortment" features a sugar bowl, pap boat, ladle, and other objects marked by Revere. A group of tankards, cups, pitchers, and drinking bowls evoke the everyday presence of alcoholic beverages in early America. In taverns and homes, early Americans enthusiastically consumed large quantities of beer, wine, punch, and other libations. The exhibition examines the various forms used to serve drink, including some beverages unfamiliar to us today such as "flip" (a draft of strong beer, rum, and sugar or molasses into which a red-hot poker was thrust) and "metheglin" (a beverage of fermented honey, ginger, mace, and yeast).

Colonial America quickly adopted the European taste for tea and coffee in the seventeenth century. While the tensions preceding the Revolutionary War, culminating in the "Boston Tea Party" of 1767, curtailed the consumption of tea for a time, tea drinking resumed following the war, as evidenced by the quantities of silver teapots, sugar bowls, cream pots, and canisters that survive. "A Fresh and Large Assortment" explores the social customs surrounding tea and coffee drinking, as well as dining. "A Fresh and Large Assortment" was organized by Beth Carver Wees and by Alexis Goodin, assistant curator at the Clark Art Institute. Wees will introduce the exhibition with a public lecture on Saturday, February 12, at 5:30 p.m.

A number of programs and activities are planned in connection with the exhibition, including a Valentine's Day Party and opening reception on February 12, a children's Valentine's Day party on February 13, a series of lectures on February 29, March 7, and March 14, and an afternoon of family activities on March 19.

Also opening on February 13 will be two exhibitions of works on paper. Those Women: Toulouse-Lautrec's Elles and French Images of Prostitution features all twelve lithographs from Henri de Toulouse Lautrec's 1896 Elles series, as well as other images of prostitutes and "kept women" by Degas, Descamps, and Atget. Truth and Beauty: Peter Henry Emerson's Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads comprises fifteen platinum prints by British photographer Peter Henry Emerson, some of the most beautiful photographs of rural life and landscape of the nineteenth century. The prints in Truth and Beauty are from the collections of the Parnassus Foundation and Jane and Raphael Bernstein.

The Clark Art Institute The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is one of handful of institutions in the United States that combines a public art museum with a complex of research and academic programs, including a major art history library. As such, the Clark functions as an international center in the museum field for research and discussion on the nature of art and art history. The Clark was chartered in 1950 by Robert Sterling Clark and opened its doors in 1955, welcoming the public to a collection of artworks and books that he and his wife had assembled over the course of five decades. The collection is best known for Mr. and Mrs. Clark's extraordinary French Impressionist paintings, which take their place among a wider ensemble of masterworks that range from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century.

Among the highlights are works by Ugolino di Nerio, Piero della Francesca, Fragonard, Corot, Bouguereau, Turner, and an especially strong representation of American artists, including Homer, Cassatt, and Sargent. The Clark is also noted for its fine holdings of decorative arts and old master and nineteenth-century drawings and prints. Its library has grown to become one of the nation's premier resources for the study of European and American art, containing more than 200,000 printed books, bound periodicals, and auction sales catalogues. Two major new initiatives of the Clark are: the Clark Fellowships, which brings leading scholars from universities and museums around the country and the world to Williamstown for up to a year, to develop, discuss and present their ideas and projects; and the conference and symposium program, which presents one major Clark Conference a year on a topic of vital importance to the field, as well as smaller symposia and lectures. This expansion of the Clark's activities further strengthens the Graduate Program in the History of Art, the country's foremost program of its kind, which is administered jointly with nearby Williams College.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free through May.  For more information call 413-458-2303 or visit www.clarkart.edu.

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