"Any designer-craftsman worth the
name must have a thorough understanding and mastery of technique."
|It is this philosophy
which would drive a young woman from Kansas to reintroduce the craft of silversmithing to
the post World War two university setting.
Margaret Craver graduated from the University of Kansas in 1929 with a degree in design. At the time there was no craft department, but classes in metal arts were offered. She recalls the teacher as "not knowing much about the craft, but a rather pleasant woman.". Intrigued and inspired by this new medium, Craver began to seek out other sources for information about process and technique. To learn more about soldering - something her Kansas metals teacher was unable to help her with, she became a hidden student in the Engineering department. For a short time after graduation Craver worked in New York designing home furnishings, then returned to Copeland, Kansas and taught grade school. This allowed her to continue seeking out individuals who could impart some of what she wanted to learn. Each summer and during Christmas holidays Margaret went off to study. First with a silversmith at Tiffany's named Wilson Rear whom she had heard of through her gem dealer. He was not interested in taking on students, but this is not the first time Margaret would just show up and expect to be taken in. From the start, her evident determination and devotion to her mission helped her to achieve a level of acceptance and respect. Under the direction of Rear, Craver perfected her skills in the areas of stone setting, chain making and chasing. Later she went to study with the armor restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There she learned how to craft her own tools which became a part of the Smithsonian's permanent collection when she hung up her hammers a few years ago . ..
In 1935 Craver established the first crafts department in the School of the Wichita Art Association a branch of the Wichita Art Museum. Here she began teaching metalwork and other craft courses as well as serving as a part time curator. During her ten year stay there the summer tutorials continued.
Summer 1936 led her to Detroit and English ecclesiastic silversmith Arthur Nevill Kirk who had formerly taught at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. The following year she went to the small firm of Stone and Associates in Massachusetts, where "the designs whispered of another age".
The summer tutorials were definitely providing Craver with knowledge of technique and craftsmanship, but they were not advancing her interests in contemporary design. At the time, Sweden was emerging as a powerhouse for modern design and Craver was longing to travel abroad. This time Margaret sought out Baron Erik Flemming, silversmith to the king, as her tutor. Again, knowing that he, too, took no students she relentlessly packed up her latest pieces (a series of intricacy carved gems for which she had devised a way of cutting because she "was so tired and bored with those which were commercially available") and headed for Sweden. In order to secure an appointment with the Baron, Craver explained that she "had traveled all the way from America, just to speak with him.". It was the presentation of her fancifully cut gems which intrigued the Baron enough to award Craver an appointment which ended up in a series of summer tutorials in the Atila Borgila workshop.
The summer tutorials were put on hold when World War II intervened . Although she continued to teach and curate in Wichita, Craver volunteered in hospitals. This endeavor allowed her to observe the different types of occupational therapy offered to wounded servicemen. Craver noticed that metalsmithing was not included among the crafts being taught. Based on personal experience she concluded that learning metalsmithing skills could be helpful in improving hand, arm and upper-body strength and coordination.
On a visit to the metal refining and supply firm of Handy and Harman in New York City to inquire about materials for her Wichita class, she explained her earlier observations and suggested the company intervene. In the office Gus Niemeyer, president of Handy and Harman, Craver's suggestion was well received. The Company set up the Hospital services Department an hired Margaret to direct it. Craver's next step was to persuade the head of rehabilitation for the armed services hospitals that the metals workshops were a good idea. As Craver worked her way up through a chain of interviews, she was confronted with the question of budgeting for such an idea. When pressed for an answer, she simply removed a pin from her lapel which she had crafted specifically for this occasion and replied "Would you consider sixteen cents too much for a pin such as this?". Also she pointed out this would be far less expensive than the large sums of money spent on leather for the hospitals noted leather workshops. Craver was immediately given the go-ahead. In 1944 the Hospitals Service Program was put into effect by Handy and Harman with Margaret Craver serving as consulting silversmith. The firm regarded this as their contribution to the war effort.
Often Niemeyer would walk through the workshops and later pull Margaret aside and ask why patients were working with such make-shift equipment. Margaret explained that equipment was hard to obtain, most had to be custom made and was rather expensive. Niemeyer was generous beyond words, but Craver spent frugally not wanting to take advantage of Handy and Harman. George Ravensworth Hughes, a member of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, recalls that "The most interesting and ultimately valuable experience I had in New York was at Handy and Harman, the refiners who correspond to Johnson Matthey in England. In going round their factory we came to a room where a number of disabled veterans of the war were being taught to make simple jewelry. ". Influenced by this scene, Hughes persuaded Niemeyer to send Margaret Craver for a summer in London. There she met with the silversmiths from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths who were just returning from the war. Craver helped to give a refresher course to the returning smiths at the LCC Central school of Arts and Crafts. Hughes hoped that this would help to implement
|a rehabilitation program in
England similar to the one Craver had organized in America. Before they saw their close,
these rehabilitation programs were ultimately incorporated into the Thirteenth Army
Command Hospitals in the United States as well as others in Canada and Great Britain.
In 1946, at the close of the war programs, the Hospitals Services Department of Handy and Harman was changed to the Craft Services Department. Craver would head this Department for another six years, during which, she would produce two instructional films, edit several texts and change the way silversmithing was taught in the U.S. This was perhaps her greatest, most significant contribution to the contemporary field of metalsmithing. Handy and Harman recognized the need to promote a greater interest in metal craft and a wider knowledge of advanced techniques, as well as increase their market. In 1948 there were only two Universities that offered advanced study in the metals field. In America the tradition of craft was lost During the Industrial Revolution. When the need for it disappeared, incentive and opportunity for training disappeared as well. In the holloware and flatware industry when silversmiths were needed for handwork, they were imported from Europe.
Craver states her reasons for taking on such a project in the following quote: "I studied in bits and pieces, it was so difficult, I vowed that if I ever could, I would make it easier for people who wanted to become silversmiths. I thought that America should have fine contemporary silver and the only way to do it was to give people some techniques and let them learn. "
The Handy and Harman workshops were held first at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and later at Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Craftsman for one month at the end of summers from 1947 to 51. Each workshop consisted of twelve carefully selected students who were chosen by means of jurried competition. Selection committees were comprised of design and museum people and students were jugged on their feeling for design rather than their accomplishments in metal. Applicants need not have previously worked in metal. To be eligible they must have held an art teaching position within a university, college or art school in the United States or Canada. The intent of the workshops was to provide advanced training in Danish silversmithing and holloware techniques which would enable students to return to their teaching posts and expand this training into their classrooms.
The workshops were taught by European master silversmiths William Bennett, Baron Erik Flemming and Reginald Hill in that order. Bennett was a noted English silversmith and member of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.
Baron Erik Flemming, Craver's mentor, was silversmith to the King of Sweden. In 1920 he founded the Atelier Borgila workshop in Stockholm. Although he was trained as a traditional silversmith, as his workshop grew, Flemming became the primary designer and left handwork to his associates. His style bridged the gap between Art Nuvo and a more modern era. Designing with an awareness of Swedish tradition, he includes stylized rosettes at the ends of curved handles in blackened wood. Objects are octangular shapes with smooth facets and solid feet. Flemming preferred plain facetted silver with a traditional beautiful surface which was neither visibly hammered, or extremely shiny with sparse, well placed ornaments.
English silversmith Reginald Hill was the design advisor to the Design and Research Center at Goldsmith's Hall in London - also home of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Later he taught as a design instructor in silver and jewelry at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. He felt that future generation must look back and speak of the Twentieth Century as a period of it's own. Hill encouraged a students to design and produce objects of beauty and form which would fit their new surroundings. "This approach to silversmithing through design dictates that design and craftsmanship must be closely knit if good work is to be produced. And it is only through a careful study of the past tradition, an open mind and a deep feeling to create something beautiful, that anything worthwhile will be made. Merely to take a piece of metal and hammer it into shape is not craftsmanship, but to take it, mold it to the mind's eye, impart perfection in line, form and reflection, that is craftsmanship." was Hill's philosophy. He was very concerned with the design aspect of surface reflection and finish of silver forms. It could be used to either break up, or reinforce the lines which define a form.
In 1949 Craver organized an exhibition of student work completed during the workshops which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and toured the country .
The workshops were a huge success, students returned to universities and expanded their departments. To this day, the larger graduate metals programs in the United States were founded by attendants of the Handy and Harman workshops.
Margaret Craver retired from Handy and Harman in 1950 to pursue technical research in her own work. Inspired by a pin on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art, she re-engineered the process of en resille enameling. The technique of En Resille enamelling originated in France during the 1500's. To the best of our knowledge, the procedure used by the French began by carving pockets into quartz. These pockets were then leafed with gold and filled with low temperature enamels. The process was short lived and not many examples of it exist toady. Craver used the process to create enameled forms without a metal backing behind them. Craver used the technique to fabricate her own translucent gemstones which she frames in raised and soldered forms.
In 1980 Craver was honored As a Fellow of the American Craft Council. She was chosen by her peers for achievement as a craftsperson as well as her organizational and research contributions to the field.