When Jabez Gorham founded a small workshop a few blocks from here in 1831, handcrafted silver spoons were a principal product of his business. When the RISD Museum acquired a Gorham spoon in 1909, it marked the beginning of a collection of works by the Gorham Manufacturing Company that today comprises nearly 5,000 objects and design drawings. This exhibition-assembled from the museum’s collection with important loans from other institutions and private collections-illuminates the heights of Gorham’s industry, ambition, artistry, technology, and innovation.
The Gorham Manufacturing Company was an inimitable force in the city of Providence and around the globe, boldly growing into the largest silver company in the world. Gorham created some of the most exceptional works ever made in silver, forever changing the landscape of American decorative arts. The company also profoundly changed Rhode Island by training and employing generations of highly skilled workers and, like many local industries, leaving behind a complicated legacy. Visit the Gorham Workbench in this gallery and access the Soundwalk tour (information at right) to learn about the company’s impact on the community, labor practices, and the environment. Accompanied by a major publication (Rizzoli) with stunning new imagery and recent research, the exhibition will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Spanning 120 years, the objects on view here testify to the undiminished brilliance of Gorham’s workers as they collaboratively translated ideas into gleaming new realities, the restless innovation of the company’s leaders, and a dazzling array of aesthetic styles.
Elizabeth Williams, David and Peggy Rockefeller Curator of Decorative Arts and Design
Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850–1970 is made possible by a sponsoring grant from the Henry Luce Foundation with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the RISD Museum Associates, Textron Inc., the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, Joseph A. Chazan, MD, Virginia and Alan Nathan, Cindy and Scott Burns, and a generous in-kind gift from Spencer Marks, Ltd. Educational programming associated with the exhibition is made possible by a lead sponsorship from the Zennovation Fund and generous additional support from Victoria Veh.
The RISD Museum is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and with the generous partnership of the Rhode Island School of Design, its Board of Trustees, and the RISD Museum Board of Governors.
Projects & Publications
The history of the Gorham Manufacturing Company is intertwined with that of Providence and Rhode Island.
Gorham silver cleaning project leads to unexpected student collaboration and learning.
This salad spoon and fork set, made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company ca. 1885, is named after the coastal town of Narragansett, Rhode Island.
This rare example of Gorham's "Mythologique" flatware service was purposefully left unfinished as they are samples, combining elaborate hand-worked detail with mechanized brute force.