Gorham Silver: A Responsive Approach to Interpretation

The history of the Gorham Manufacturing Company is intertwined with that of Providence and Rhode Island. This uniquely local story has provided the opportunity for the RISD Museum to learn from the experiences of community members who have intersected with Gorham's legacy, and to allow that process to shape programs related to Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850–1970. Through a generous grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the museum engaged in a nine-month community-centered planning process with community members holding a vested interest in the project. Over the course of several meetings, museum staff gathered input from six selected community advisors toward the development of interpretive materials and programs. Following a large open initial meeting, advisors joined museum staff to brainstorm and discuss possible approaches together. Education Department staff followed up with numerous individual conversations with additional community members and embarked on site visits to artists’ studios, local collections, Gorham-related sites, and other locations that provided alternate viewpoints.

Visitors to the exhibition will encounter two projects that emerged directly from community conversations: a section of the exhibition devoted to techniques and processes and an audio program that draws out and centers different perspectives and ideas. The Gorham Workbench will highlight Gorham tools and objects that have been saved and are still in use by community members, supplemented by a new video combining historic films produced by and about Gorham in the 1920s and ’30s with footage of contemporary metalsmiths. The Workbench will focus on innovative manufacturing approaches developed by Gorham as well as centuries-old silversmithing processes used by the company’s employees. The audio program explores complex themes through firsthand accounts and tells nuanced stories using immersive soundscapes. This project will highlight perspectives that are often overlooked but are crucial to our understanding of the company and its products throughout its history and into the present.

These in-gallery experiences will be complemented by public programs that shed light not simply on the luxury of Gorham silver, but on the company's labor practices, innovative methods, environmental impacts, reliance on cultural appropriation, and more. These themes resonate as deeply now as they did when Gorham was in its heyday. This is particularly true, for example, of the lingering environmental effects of the facility that was located on Providence’s Mashapaug Pond and the crucial role artists and designers continue to play in the vitality of Rhode Island today.

With thanks to:
Barbara Barnes, historian
Matthew Bird, senior critic, Industrial Design, RISD
Kristina Brown, artist educator and policy analyst, HousingWorks RI
Gerald Carbone, historian
Erik Carlson, composer, media artist, and architect
Maya Chavez-Akin, educator, Alvarez High School
Becci Davis, artist and 2018 RISD Museum artist fellow
Marc DeMarchena, associate professor, Johnson and Wales
Peter DiCristofaro, director and curator, Providence Jewelry Museum
Kate Duffy, doctoral candidate in American studies, Brown University
Joost During, silversmith, educator, and former Gorham employee
Holly Ewald, artist, UPP Arts
Jeff Elsbecker, silversmith, educator, and former Gorham employee
Freeman Freeman, conservation volunteer, RISD Museum
Erik Gould, photographer and RISD Museum employee
Clarissa Guzman, Gorham site neighbor and student, Blackstone Academy Charter School
Jeff Herman, silversmith and former Gorham employee
Arthur Hash, assistant professor, Jewelry and Metalsmithing, RISD
Bill and Susanne Juaire, New England Copperworks and S. R. Blackington
Hugo Kohl, jeweler and Providence Jewelry Museum board member
Avery Lucas, silversmith
Fosca Maddaloni, doctoral candidate in the History of Art and Architecture, Brown University
Laura Maxwell, Gorham site neighbor and educator, Hope High School
Francoise McAree, program manager, Fine and Applied Arts, RISD Continuing Education
Sherenté Mishitashin Harris, member of the Narragansett Tribe and RISD/Brown dual-degree student
Rebecca Noon, actor-creator, formerly artistic associate for community at Trinity Repertory Company, currently director of community engagement at Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis)
Tara Nummedal, associate professor, History, Italian Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Brown University
Providence Jewelry Museum
Christopher Roberts, postdoctoral research associate, Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Brown University
Amelia Rose, environmental-justice organizer and executive director, Groundwork RI
Tracy Steepy, professor, Jewelry and Metalsmithing, RISD
Keith Stokes, historian
Robin Tagliaferri, visual artist, non-profit administrator and granddaughter of Paolo Tagliaferri, hoisting engineer in the Gorham foundry
Robert A. Tagliaferri, son of Paolo Tagliaferri, hoisting engineer in the Gorham foundry
MJ Tyson, silversmith (RISD MFA 2017, Jewelry and Metalsmithing; BFA 2008)
Timothy Veske-McMahon, assistant professor, Jewelry and Metalsmithing, RISD
Lillian Webster, silversmith
Jennifer Wilson, assistant director for education and public programs, Rhode Island Historical Society
Janet Zapata, independent scholar specializing in silver and jewelry

And student assistants:
Alex Hanesworth (Brown BA 2020, Visual Arts)
Valerie James (RISD MFA 2019, Jewelry and Metalsmithing)
Kimia Rahnavardi (RISD MFA 2020, Interior Architecture)
Ruby Thiagarajan (Brown MA 2019, Public Humanities)