A Silver Craftsman's Work Comes to Light

Sarah Ross Morgan didn't expect to find the work of turn-of-the-century silversmith Arthur Stone so close to home. But soon after beginning a study of his work, she suddenly took notice of the bowl a relative had been eating oatmeal from for years. The markings indicated it was made by Stone.

Her knowledge of Stone's work eventually led her to contribute to a book about the artist (1847 to 1938), who ran an influential studio in Gardner, Mass., that taught handwork techniques. The book inspired an exhibit, which has opened at the Boston Athenaeum and will tour under the auspices of the American Federation of Arts.

Stone's work has seen a revival over the past decade, mainly at the hand of his great-niece, Elenita Chickering, who is curator of the exhibit and the main author of his biography.

``I've known about him since I was knee-high,'' Ms. Chickering says. ``He had a terrific sense of humor.''

So does his art. In the exhibit, just steps from an imperiously grand tea service sits a tiny cowbell etched with edelweiss, and a dainty buckle dotted with still more flowers.

The English-born but Boston-based silversmith has plenty of admirers here, and several visitors said they own a spoon or two of his.

``Stone has been coming out of the kitchen drawers,'' says Alexander Goriansky, an independent silver appraiser and dealer. Mr. Goriansky's own gravy boat is on display here.

But Stone's art may have been relegated to the kitchen for very good reasons. Goriansky speculates that perhaps people simply ``liked using it every day'' as opposed to saving it for special occasions.

Stone might have appreciated the compliment. An adherent of the American Arts and Crafts movement, he rejected efforts to replace the craftsman with the machine as the Industrial Revolution took hold.

He and the other artisans believed in the dignity and beauty of practical objects, and often reverted to older styles. His cover for the Book of Common Prayer, for example, draws on medieval themes.

The show doesn't extend much beyond one room, but the space allows a viewer to focus on the silver's grace - the culmination of human effort rather than mechanistic production. If you look closely next to the cowbell, you'll also see a fork decorated with tiny gold grapes, cheekily outshining that tea set.

* The exhibit continues at the Boston Athenaeum through Jan. 14, 1995. It then travels to New York's Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts March 18 to May 14; the Clarke Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., June 4 to July 30; Ford House, Grosse Point Shores, Mich., Aug. 23 to Oct. 22; and Society of Four Arts in Palm Beach, Fla., Feb. 9 to March 10, 1996.

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