Another one of the city’s former manufacturing enterprises that is preserved by the Gardner Museum is silversmithing. In 1887 Frank W. Smith began manufacturing silverware in Gardner and within a few years the Frank W. Smith Silver Company had one of the finest equipped factories in the country for the manufacture of high grade sterling silverware, both by machine and by hand. The company continued operations until 1958.
However, during the course of its history the company’s silver services became the possession of notable individuals such as Princess Grace of Monaco and Queen Elizabeth of England. Also, Smith silver groupings were purchased, on occasion, for United States naval vessels, gifts from the states or communities for which they were named.
One of the superintendents and designers for the Smith Silver Company was Arthur J. Stone who was hired in 1887. In 1901 Stone started his own silver shop in Gardner which at one point would employ twelve apprentices and craftsmen. That same year he joined the Arts and Crafts Society of Boston. At a time when manufactured silver was reflecting the ornate designs of the Victorian Age, this organization advocated a return to simpler forms.
Arthur Stone remained in business for thirty-six years, during which time he became known as “The Dean of American Silversmiths.” His works included hand wrought silver products such as toys, bowls, trophies, tankards, tea sets, table silver in all forms, altar sets for churches and often ecclesiastical pieces. A gold monstrance for the Church of the Advent in Boston is a fine example of this craftsmanship. Today, beyond private ownership, Arthur Stone’s workmanship can be found in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum and the Worcester Museum of Fine Arts among many public institutions.
After 36 years the shop was purchased by Henry E. Heywood who called the company Stone Associates and continued with the same craftsmen until 1957 when the shop closed.After Arthur Stone’s retirement several Gardner silversmiths continued their craftsmanship. However, at the present time the only practicing silversmith is a grandson of one of Arthur Stone’s master craftsman. Even though the age of silversmithing has essentially ended in Gardner, the Museum works diligently to keep its memory alive. For instance, in the Spring of 1991, the Museum held an exhibit titled “A Century of Gardner Sterling Silver.” The exhibit provided for a four week display of manufactured and hand wrought silver by eleven of Gardner’s master craftsmen. In conjunction with the exhibit the Museum published a twenty-one page brochure about the craftsmen whose works were on display. Now in its second printing, the brochure is sold to the public at a modest price.
The other income related to the exhibit comes from the sale of a book titled Arthur J. Stone Designer and Silversmith. This book was authored by Elenita Chickering, a relative by marriage of Arthur Stone, and was published by the Library of the Boston Athenaeum. Not only has Mrs. Chickering donated the book’s remainder to the Museum but also she has designated the Museum as a repository for her research files, which will become a significant addition to the organization’s archives.
Another step that the Museum has taken to preserve the memory of Gardner’s silversmithing tradition took place in the fall of 2000 when Dr. Paul Harasimowicz replicated a working silver shop on the building’s ground floor. The shop’s tools were donated to the Museum by Emery Prior, a relative of Elenita Chickering. It was the shop of Ernest Lehtonen, a master craftsman who worked for Stone Associates, successors to Arthur Stone. Within the shop (pictured above) visitors can see an annual crafting demonstration of a silver spoon. Now, this demonstration is done by Peter Erickson, the grandson of one of Arthur Stone’s master craftsmen, George Erickson, and the last to ply silversmithing in the city. George Erickson ran his own shop on Green Street for many years and it was inherited by his grandson, Peter Erickson. Visitors can also view a video interview of Peter Erickson and his grandfather taken from Boston’s Channel 7 “Our Times.”
Another video that is available for viewing was made by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from a silent movie produced in 1920 by Harvard University. This film is of Arthur Stone and his workers. Further, the silver shop also has a collection of silver that was made in Gardner.