SAM Art: What are decorative arts?

What, exactly, are the decorative arts? The answer might surprise you…

Part of the answer would certainly include metalwork, and objects meant for use. This contemporary tea and coffee service, commissioned for the museum by Julie Emerson, The Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, ties the museum’s historical American silver to the present. The design for this service was envisioned by master silversmith John Marshall when he walked into the expanded Seattle Art Museum. He believes that a strong clarity of space is an invitation to the art, and that three-dimensional, sculptural objects are a way of making the space have movement. The silver rises from a carved acrylic base that bears a visual similarity to rock crystal.

Beyond this stunning set, the decorative arts are varied and wide-ranging. Tomorrow evening, please join Julie Emerson as she discusses the decorative arts, and explores their histories and presentation.

Members Art History Lecture Series: Curator’s Choice with Julie Emerson

What, Exactly, are the Decorative Arts?

April 17, 2013, 7:00–8:30 pm

Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown

Where and why did the terms “decorative arts” and “fine arts” originate? In the history of Western art, what were the roles of trade guilds, value, and geographical accessibility? Are paintings and sculpture favored over ceramics, metalwork, glass and textiles today? How do curators in European and American museums define and explore artistry, craft and design? Addressing these questions, Julie Emerson, The Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, will place decorative arts in an historical context and discuss their significance at SAM.

SAM Art: A new acquisition, all about place

Location, Location, Location

My tea and coffee sets relate to the place they are going.
—John Marshall

Destined for an art museum, a home in the San Juan Islands, and a 1950s Seattle residence, a trio of recently installed tea and coffee services glory in their sculptural delight, technical virtuosity, and the promise of a festive gathering around warm stimulating beverages. Each piece, while an exquisite work of art, was designed to be used and pours properly without a drip—the artist’s impeccable touch.

Tea and coffee pots rank as seminal works in the annals of silver production— in fact, teapots are considered a benchmark for the silversmith. Representing three decades of master silversmith John Marshall’s career, these services blend traditional vocabulary—such as towering, vertical coffeepots and shorter, more horizontal teapots—with his evolution of individual expression. The service shown here was produced as a commission for the Seattle Art Museum.

In this video, Marshall talks about his work and demonstrates metalworking techniques.

“Tea and Coffee Service,” 2008-09, John Marshall, American, born 1936, sterling silver, rosewood, Argentium sterling silver (an amalgam of fine silver and germanium), and acrylic, overall: 15 ¾ x 25 x 26 in., The Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts, 2009.27.1-5, Photo: Currently on view in “Here and Now,” the new acquisitions exhibition space, third floor, SAM downtown.