ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
article # 151
by Dorothea Burstyn       if you like this page, support ASCAS clicking on the +1 button of google    
(click on photos to enlarge image)

The William P. Hood Jr. collection of contemporary flatware

The opening party of the exhibition Fabulous Flatware - Non-traditional Tools of the Table at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, Lafayette, Louisiana, on August 19, 2011, was a glittering affair sponsored by the eminent Gorham Martelé collectors Jolie and Robert Shelton of Lafayette and attended by many donors to and members of the Hilliard and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Main exhibition hall
Main exhibition hall
The exhibition showcases part of Dr. William P. Hood Jr.'s large collection of contemporary flatware and traces the evolution of flatware from traditional to non-traditional, from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first. Dr. Lee A. Gray, the show‘s curator, says the mission is to show that good design can elevate relatively mundane objects like forks, spoons, and knives to an art form. She stresses that "good design is an invisible luxury," often not even noticed but surely able to make our lives much better. She deeply appreciated the help and guidance of Dr. Hood. A longtime expert on silver flatware of the second half of the nineteenth century, an era where flatware was produced in an almost endless and fascinating variety of functional pieces and patterns, Dr. Hood has contributed greatly to our knowledge with innumerable well-researched magazine articles and with his book Tiffany Silver Flatware, 1845-1905: When Dining was an Art, published in 2000 by Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk, and reprinted in 2003. A few years ago Dr. Hood shifted his collecting interest to contemporary flatware and has built up a vast comprehensive collection in record time. Selecting what should be shown in the exhibition presented the biggest challenge. In the end 330 basic place pieces from 110 patterns produced worldwide were chosen as the core. These are complemented by many servers, novelties, and miscellaneous implements, bringing the total in the show to over 750 pieces of flatware.
Dr. Lee Gray and Dr. William P. Hood
Dr. Lee Gray and Dr. William P. Hood
Unusual wall cases allow for better comparison of flatware patterns
Unusual wall cases allow for better comparison of flatware patterns
The core flatware is housed in cleverly designed Plexiglass wall cases that display a fork, knife and spoon in each pattern in a vertical array. Laid side by side, these arrays form a top row of forks, middle row of knives, and bottom row of spoons, facilitating comparison of characteristics among the piece types and patterns. The patterns to show changes in decorative style are chronologically organized. This allows the viewer to see the striking contrast among designs created around the same time, as for instance between Labors of Cupid and Love Disarmed, both American Art Nouveau designs of the early twentieth century, and ultra-modern sets designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh of Scotland and Josef Hoffman of Austria. Another case features Italian examples such as Domus by Gio Ponti, representatives of the Scandinavian Modern style like Odin and Fjord among many others, and even shows Raymond Loewy's inflight flatware for the Air France Concorde SST. The case on Modernism and Beyond introduces us to many exotic designs such as Esotismo by Jean Marie Patois, 1988, where the various piece types take the form of animals (the knife is a crocodile, the fork is a bird and the spoon a fish); TI-1, a Japanese pattern which features a unique serrated circular knife blade; mono-tools, a modern German take on the possible shape of prehistoric eating tools; and Robert Venturi, named after its architect-designer, which is a return to figural forms, intentionally abandoning the stark international Style by declaring "less is a bore".

Other wall cases examine the changes over time in terms of size and form, functional types, designers and producers, and materials and techniques. Flatware has become much smaller over the decades. New functional types have been developed, including amuse-bouche spoons, gourmet/sauce spoons, spaghetti forks, combination pieces such as sporks (spoon/fork) and even special tools to eat avant-garde forms of foods such as "foam". Sometimes the innovative can border on the absurd, as in the case of Fritz & Frieda, introduced in 2007 by Carl Mertens, which is a pair of picks for French fries, sausages, etc., that can double as tiepins; or the Clothespin spoon, a unique concoction equipped with a clip for holding a herb or flower to allow enjoyment of different aromas while eating.
Tools for eating foams
Tools for eating foams, the avant-garde food forms created by chef Ferran Adrià in Spain, hand-made in sterling silver and copper, by Canadian silversmith Anne Barros, 2010
At the beginning of the twentieth century important silver manufacturers still had a large in-house design staff, while today’s flatware producers rely largely on outsourcing. Legion are the patterns designed by important male architects. This goes along with Dr. Hood's statement that flatware-collecting is a male-dominated hobby based on mens' fascination with tools. Myriad items are also influenced by prominent chefs, who encourage the creation of new implements for their innovative foods.

While traditional flatware was either solid silver or silver-plate, prevailing lifestyle changes of working women and households without servants resulted in the predominance of the easy-to-take-care-of stainless steel flatware in today’s market place. Stainless steel has been combined with many different materials to introduce color and texture, such as plastic, wood, porcelain, pewter, pate-de-verre and colored nylon. Some chemical processes achieve the same effect – as for instance with anodized aluminum or carbon-coated steel– but are also used to give flatware a scratch-resistant or stain/corrosion-resistant finish. It is surprising that argentium silver, a tarnish-resistant silver alloy so popular in the jewelry industry, has not met with more acceptance for flatware production. The only flatware example produced to date, Chameleon, handmade by silversmith Cynthia Eid in 2004, is in the show. Here the big American silver manufacturers of the late nineteenth century like Gorham and Tiffany, who took on huge financial risks to introduce novel materials and objects, are sorely missed. An extra-hard plastic Lexan was used for Design Ten (1981) by Don Wallance. Credit card cutlery, produced in Holland since 2006, features a snap-out plastic miniaturized fork and knife/spatula in a credit card-size case. For the environmentally conscious, Pandora Design even produces the disposable hors d’oeuvre sporks Moscardino, designed by Giulio Lacchetti and Matteo Ragni, and made from a biodegradable starch-based polymer.

The floor cases are a lot of fun because they group flatware pieces thematically. Espresso, anyone? shows mocha cups of unusual and futuristic designs next to an array of small spoons, all of which I would like to take home. Adorable is the selection of children’s flatware- Eating Can be Fun. These are not miniature adult sets for the modern child but fun pieces in cheerful colors with handles shaped as animals, cartoon characters and even bulldozers. A child's fork is a play on Air Force One, the President’s airplane, Airfork One "will bring those peas and mashed potatoes in for a safe landing", according to its American producer Fred & Friends. Lovingly Handmade shows the beautiful and exact workmanship of contemporary silversmiths. Here it is brought home to us that no uniform contemporary style seems to exist, Trussware and Table Tools, the very technical-looking silverware made by Boris Bally, are shown next to very Shiebler-looking servers in the form of nasturtium and maple leaves, designed and handmade by American silversmith Robyn Nichols. Additional pedestal cases show a dizzying array of flatware used for traveling, eating pizza and pasta, and serving salad and cake/pastry.
Floor case 'Eating can be fun' Air Fork One Various cake servers
   Floor case "Eating can be fun"                                  Air Fork One                                        Various cake servers
Other floor cases feature table settings with spectacular dinnerware, glassware and linens complementing the flatware. These range from the ultra-elegant Attelage by Hermès and Nobel, designed by Gunnar Cyrén and used since 1991 at the awards dinner in Stockholm, to the funky Boneware by Michael Aram, a US designer who works and lives in India.
Attelage by Hermès, introduced 1997
Attelage by Hermès, introduced 1997
Boneware, designed 1995 by Michael Aram
Boneware, designed 1995 by Michael Aram, combined with Vietri pumpkin soup bowl/lid
As the Hilliard Museum is associated with the University of Louisiana, Dr. Lee Gray involved many students of its various design departments with the exhibition. Architecture students helped create the vertically oriented big round table tops in daring colors, which give the exhibition extra "zip". Hailey Boudreaux, UL graphic design student, produced the visually pleasing wall panels and a smart looking catalogue. The text of the wall panels gives an introduction to the various displays. The catalogue is not only a list of all items shown but also a treasure trove of data on designers and producers and of background information. Both are the work of Dr. Hood, who gave a lecture on August 20, imparting additional knowledge about the development of contemporary flatware design and production. This was very well attended and received and made many a listener into a modern flatware fan.
Vertical big round table tops
  Vertical big round table tops
Russel Wright flatware, designed 1933, introduced commercially late 1980
     Russel Wright flatware, designed 1933,
     introduced commercially late 1980s

Boneware, designed 1995 by Michael Aram
A selection of modern flatware, from left to right, Arpège vegetable knife, Christofle 2005, designed by Alain Passard, chef and owner of L’Arpège Restaurant., Trussware dinner spoon, designed 1903, executed in sterling silver by Boris Bally, 2001, XUM dinner fork, designed by Robert Wilhite, 1990,Table Tools table knife, designed and handmade in sterling silver by Boris Bally, 2001, Arpège vegetable fork.
The exhibition can be visited until December 17. 2011, at the Hilliard Museum. After that it will travel to museums in Alabama: Dothan, Montgomery and Mobile. As previously mentioned, the shown items represent only the "tip of the iceberg" of a truly remarkable collection. I hope that the appetite for this kind of venue is whetted now and that lovers of contemporary flatware can expect even bigger things to come.
Dorothea Burstyn is the Editor of the Silver Society of Canada Journal
and Administrator of SSC website
- 2011 -