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Margret Craver

Margaret Craver helped to revitalize interest in hollowware and silversmithing techniques by organizing Silversmithing Workshops Conferences, sponsored by Handy and Harman, NY from 1947 to 1951. Each summer during these five years she ran conferences to teach metalsmithing techniques to veterans from World War II. Many of the participants became leaders in their field including John Paul Miller, Earl Pardon, and Alma Eikerman. In 1950, Craver reinvented the ancient 17th century en resille enameling technique. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Art and Design, NY, and the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ.

About

Margret Craver was a pioneer of The American Studio Jewelry Movement. When I mention pioneer, I am not referring to the wild west with Indians and wagon trains. She was a pioneer who helped determine the course of modern metalsmithing in the United States on a national level. At a time when it was difficult to acquire academic training to become an accomplished metalsmith, she made it possible for multitudes to learn. With great fortitude she devised and developed educational programs that revitalized interest in hollowware and traditional metalsmithing techniques that still exist today.

            To appreciate Craver’s achievements even more, I am going to set the stage to prior World War 2. The emphasis was on mass production, cheaply manufactured silver plated objects were machine made not hand-made. Institution that once had programs incorporating traditional metalsmithing techniques now focused on industrial design. This included RISD and Mass College of Art. Formal metalsmithing education was severely limited; imagine not books on the subject, no catalogs to send away for tools and materials, and no google or Internet. Other than regional industrial art classes there were few places a beginning jeweler could lean technical skills.

            Most were self taught and searched unlikely venues for their education. To learn casting, California jewelers, Byron Wilson, Bob Winston, and Merry Renk went to the dentist. Other artists such as Peter Macharini went to the dockyards to observe forging and welding. Other individuals such as Philip Morton had been trained as engineers, trades that transferred well into metalsmithing.

            “When I wanted to learn, there was no place to study, imagine; Paul Revere’s country!”

            Jewelry making classes were part of the educational curriculum at some colleges, but they were taught by instructors who knew nothing about fabricating metal. In the late 1920’s Margret Craver took a metal arts course at the University of Kansas from a teacher who couldn’t even solder. After searching the library for books on soldering and finding no information she sat in on classes, learned the necessary skills and was then asked to help teach the course. She discovered, “soldering was not a miracle at all. It was very simple to do if you knew how.”

            In 1929 after graduating from the University of Kansas Margret contacted the education director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to inquire where she could study modern silversmithing and was informed almost nowhere. Margret was determined to find her own programs and apprenticeships.
           
            While teaching at elementary school in Kansas, she would travel to study with various metal artists during the summer months. In 1932, she learned to make her own tools with Leonard Heinrich, armor conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A few summers later she learned techniques from Wilson Wier silversmith from Tiffany and Co.

 (Show 1933 Necklace with Yellow Sapphire, tourmaline, silver, and gold)

            This necklace was made when Margret was studying with Wier.

 

“I have always determined that this country should make available all kinds of educational institutions and materials”

            In 1935, Craver began teaching metalwork and crafts at the Wichita Art Association, a division of the Wichita Art Museum. She taught there for 10 years and became Department head, Assistant Director, and part time Curator. The programs she began still exist today, under a new name, The Wichita Center of the Arts.

            In 1936, Craver studied technique under British-trained silversmith Arthur Neville in Detroit Michigan. She fabricated her first piece of Hollowware a silver and ebony teapot which was exhibited at the Golden Gate International exposition in San Francisco and is now in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago.

            Although she was learning technical skills to advance her interest in contemporary design she traveled to Sweden in 1938 to stud with Baron Erik Flemming, silversmith to the king. Her ingenuity, perseverance and talent persuaded him to take her on and she would return to study numerous times until World War 2 intervened. From the late 1930’s to the 1940’s Craver’s work incorporated her brilliant technical skills with modernist design, influenced by her trips to Sweden.

            During the war, Margret did hospital volunteer work and realized metalsmithing could provide excellent accupational therapy for injured veterans. With the set up and sponsorship of Handy and Harmon metal refiners, in New York and the approval of the Surgeon General in Washington D.C. she directed and created the Hospital Service Program for the U.S. Army, eventually expanding and training rehabilitation personnel who trained others in service commands throughout the United States.

Craver has said “Instead of trying to learn to knit for soldiers of World War 2 I joined Handy and Harmon, set up a pilot program under the watchful eyes of General Kirk, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and the Chief Occupational Therapist. Margret Craver’s biggest educational triumphs were the workshops she conceived after the war, revitalizing techniques and renewing interest and knowledge in silversmithing and hollowware. 

Again with the support of Handy and Harmon, from 1947-51 month long National Silversmithing workshops and conferences were held first in Providence, at the Rhode Island School of Design and then at the Rochester Institute of Technology in NY. Their primary purpose was to teach silversmithing to art teachers in colleges, universities and art schools. The workshops were taught by European masters; William Bennet, Baron Enk Flemming, and Reginald Hill. *Pictured in this image with Margret.
Many of the participants, became leaders in their field and were instrumental in founding major metalsmithing programs including:

John Paul Miller of the Cleveland Institute of Art

Alma Eikerman of Indiana University

Earl Pardon of Skidmore College NY

            “I had studied in bits and pieces” Craver said, “ It was so difficult I vowed that if I ever could make it easier for people who wanted to become silversmiths.” In her nince years with Handy and Harmon, Craver wrote instructional brochures of silversmithing and produced several films, including “Hand wrought Silver” demonstrating technical skills of raising silver from a flat sheet onto an object. In 1949 Craver also organized the museum exhibition “Form in Hand wrought Silver” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in N.Y. It featured many participants from The National Silversmithing Workshop Conference held earlier that year.

In 1950, Craver married Charles Withers, President of Towle Silversmiths, Craver became a consultant for Towle and continued to maintain her own studio. In 1953, at the Cleveland Museum of Art Margret came across a unique extraordinary enamel pendant and she was intrigued by it. She discovered that its technique called “En Resille” had been practiced for only a decade in France in the 19th century. It involved enameling with a metal backing on glass. Only about 15 examples exist in the west. For a period of 13 years Margret reinvented this technique experimenting and devising her own tools as she went along.

            In 1959 an en resille hair ornament by Craver was featured in an enamel exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York and in 1969 her en resille brooch En Cloison was featured in a traveling exhibition, Objects USA, which opened at The Smithsonian Institute. Although most of her en resille pieces were jewelry The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a vessel with en resille embellishment.

            In the 1970’s she began another experiment, a series titled Solar Lunar Cosmos, a group of 10 pendants suspended from rigid plexiglass bands. Using glass with inclusions of silver or gold, these pieces reflect transparency and glow. In 1980, she began to incorporate items from the natural world including a bold neckpiece hose centerpiece is a pre Columbian carving and a silver and gold brooch enclosing an ammonite fossil.

            During the 1070s Craver became a consultant to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Decorative Arts Department. In 2002 her lifetime accomplishments were recognized by the MFA in Boston with the exhibition “Margret Craver and her Contemporaries” including 20 pieces by Craver and work by Baron Flemming, John Paul Miller, and Earl Pardon.

            In 1988 Craver’s tools, hallmarks, and notes became part of the archives of The American Art collection at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Margret Craver has numerous awards and honors including membership in the Master Gold and Silversmith Guild Sweden, fellowship in The American Crafts Council, and the council’s gold medal for excellence and Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art.
           
            The arts community is fortunate to have had Margret Craver as its advocate, educator, and catalyst in revitalizing traditional metalsmithing techniques including renewing interest in the studio craft of raising and embellishing vessels. We are fortunate to have her work in numerous museum collections enabling us to see how she has masterfully incorporated ancient art forms with contemporary concepts and ideas. Creating vibrant vessels and jewelry with imagination and brilliant execution. 

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