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Stacey Coffee Service

Harold Gordon Stacey
Coffee Service, 1950
Silver and rosewood
Coffee pot: 12.7 x 17.9 x 8.9 cm; sugar bowl: 6.4 x 11.3 x 8 cm; creamer: 8.5 x 13.2 x 7.2 cm
Purchased 2001
© Harold G. Stacey Archives

Among the silversmiths practising their craft in Ontario during the twentieth century, Harold Stacey has no equal. His contribution to the resurgence of art silver rests on the adoption of rigorous principles rooted in the precepts of functionalism, which advocates simple, subtly arranged geometric forms. The National Gallery of Canada is proud to be the first institution in the country to represent him in its collection.

Introduced to metalworking by George Alfred Izon at Toronto's Central Technical School, Stacey decided to concentrate on silver beginning in 1932. Hokan Rudolph Renzius, a metal artist from Sweden who had settled in Toronto, also had a decisive influence on Stacey. A turning point in Stacey's career occurred in 1949: he was invited to study at the Rhode Island School of Design, where Baron Erik Fleming, silversmith to the Swedish royal family, was giving a summer course intended to introduce traditional Swedish metalworking methods into North America. Stacey attended three workshops.

By 1950 Stacey had achieved complete mastery of his art, and this coffee service is arguably his masterpiece. He belonged to the post-war generation of designers who wished to create a new, ahistorical philosophy of utilitarian objects, and his intention to renew the formal vocabulary is clearly evident. The coffee pot is usable, but its functional aspect seems almost secondary to aesthetic considerations. In Stacey's eyes, subtlety of form is of supreme importance; in practice, this means that a silver object with minimal decoration, like this one, must be viewed at exactly the right angle to be fully appreciated. While the coffee pot shows the mark of the hammer on its surface, the reflection of light is intended to enhance the object's form. The Scandinavian influence is unmistakable, and can be attributed to Stacey's acquaintance with Renzius and Fleming, but it should also be remembered that at this time Scandinavia was a significant source of inspiration for furniture and the decorative arts throughout North America. Technical analysis confirms the same tendency: the reduction of sheet metal to varying thicknesses by hammering and raising is completely in accord with the contemporary Scandinavian approach. Referring to this technique, Stacey said: "It gives an effect of great richness and quality. Wonderful, though expensive." An inscription on the bottom of the three pieces shows that the artist considered producing a limited edition. He received no orders, but Douglas Duncan purchased the service soon after it was exhibited.

Among the many and varied commissions during his career, Harold Stacey designed and produced a number of interesting works, but none creates an effect of such intensity as this coffee service.