Gallery Text

The first decades of Smith’s career were dedicated to the proposition that it is possible to make fine art using industrial techniques and materials. In the sculptures on view here, he argues instead that it is equally possible to make sculpture out of sterling silver, a material usually reserved for tableware, jewelry, and religious objects. While in the past he had cast small pieces of jewelry, it was not until 1953 that he began to experiment with silver sculpture. The effort was spurred by a commission from the American manufacturer Towle Silversmiths, who were interested in expanding the material’s use. In 1953 Towle hired eight established artists to make one sculpture apiece. These objects formed the centerpiece of a touring exhibition that included silver objects dating from ancient times to the present. Smith’s contribution to this endeavor was Birthday, made of forms cut and twisted from the slab metal he was provided. The two later sculptures utilize many of the techniques he applied to bronze and steel. The welded Bird revels in gesture; its drip and splatter marks created by the torch attest to the artist’s movements much as tool marks do on a marble sculpture. These gestural markings contrast with the measured geometric forms and lightly marked surfaces of Books and Apple, in which welding simply serves to connect the cut and assembled parts. Although he made only eight sculptures in silver, these works were the point of departure for an exploration of reflective metals that culminated in the bright stainless-steel surfaces of the Cubi series, which were burnished to reflect the changing light of their outdoor settings.

With more than 60 objects in all media, the Harvard Art Museums have the largest and most complete museum representation of the work of David Smith,due primarily to the generosity of Lois Orswell.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2014.17
People
David Smith, American (Decatur, IN 1906 - 1965 Bennington, VT)
Title
Birthday
Classification
Sculpture
Work Type
sculpture
Date
1954
Culture
American
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/337163
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Silver
Dimensions
27.9 x 57.2 x 15.2 cm (11 x 22 1/2 x 6 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: on sculpture: David Smith 3/9/54. F 262.
Provenance
David Smith, created 1954; Collection of Towle Silversmiths, Boston, MA; private collection. Estate of Margret Withers, by bequest; to Harvard Art Museums, 2014.
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Standard Reference Number
Krauss 321
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Withers
Copyright
© 2020 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Accession Year
2014
Object Number
2014.17
Division
Modern and Contemporary Art
Contact
am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu
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Publication History

"Sculpture in Silver", American Artist (1955), vol. 19, no. 9, p. 49, p. 49

Martica Sawin, "Sculpture in Silver", Arts Digest (1955), vol. 29, no. 20, p19, Cover, p. 19, ill.

"Silver Art Objects in the Headlines", Interiors (1955), vol. 115, no. 4, p. 16, p. 16, ill.

Sculpture in Silver from Islands in Time, exh. cat., American Federation of Arts (New York, NY, 1955), no. 29, ill.

[Reproduction only], , Art In America, (New York, 1956)., p. 55, ill.

K. C. Buhler, "The Silversmiths' Art In America", Art in America (1956), vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 55, 72, pp. 55, 72, ill.

Aline Jean Treanor, "Sculptors Are Using More Metal" (1958), p. 112

Jane Harrison Cone, David Smith 1906-1965: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Thomas Todd Co. (Cambridge, MA, 1966), p. 74, no. 262

Stanley Marcus, "The Working Methods of David Smith" (1972), Columbia University

Rosalind E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith, a Catalogue Raisonné, Garland Publishing, Inc. (New York, NY, 1977), p. 64, no. 321, reproduced fig. 321.

Stanley E. Marcus, David Smith: The Sculptor and His Work, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY, 1983), p. 163

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Collections Handbook, Indianapolis Museum of Art (Indianapolis, 1988), p. 119

Consuelo Ciscar, Julio González/David Smith: un Diálogo Sobre la Escultura, exh. cat., Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (Valencia, Spain, 2011), p. 425

Exhibition History

Sculpture in Silver from Islands of Time, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, 09/14/1955 - 10/16/1955; Speed Art Museum, Louisville, 10/30/1955 - 11/20/1955; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 12/04/1955 - 12/25/1955; M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, 01/08/1956 - 01/29/1956; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, 02/12/1956 - 03/04/1956; Lawrence Art Museum, 11/08/1956 - 11/21/1956

32Q: 1110 Mid-Century Abstraction II (Post-Painterly Abstraction), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 06/03/2021

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu