Before the days of Colonial Metalworks, Europeans came to our shores, American Indians created metal works largely by hammering and etching copper into pendants and earrings, or fashioning copper and silver into beads. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, the use of metal took off when the American Indians learned silver smithing from the Spanish.
Jewelry arts flourished in the Southwest, with squash blossom necklaces, turquoise inlays, and silver overlays achieving the status of high art. In the colonies, the traditions and designs of Georgian silver were fully realized and often Americanized by silversmiths like Paul Revere of Boston, and James Getty of Williamsburg. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Revere designed and fabricated flatware, candlesticks and serving pieces that were much in demand.
Silversmiths were among the most numerous of colonial craftsman. Business could often be difficult as many wealthy citizens imported their silver objects from England. Some silversmiths in America were forced to make their livings by importing silverware from England to sell. It was very difficult to obtain unfinished silver and colonial silversmiths often had to buy the old silver pieces from citizens just to have silver to work. Many silversmiths (also called goldsmiths) made relatively few original items such as spoons, buttons, and shoe buckles.
Silversmiths fashioned their objects from thick pieces of metal called ingots. Upon an anvil, the ingot would be hammered until it was thin enough. It was then placed over a stake where it was shaped and smoothed. The last step was polishing the piece with pumice, decomposed limestone (known as tripoli) and powdered red iron ore (known as jeweler’s rouge). Metal smiths who settled in colonial America and trained successive generations of craftsmen left a legacy of metalwork important to all aspects of life.
Today Folk Artists continue to work outside the mainstream making novel and effective use of the materials at hand. Bold colors, simplified shapes, and imaginative surface patterns can be seen in the variety of metal works they create. If you are interested in trying metal work, here is a link to a variety of jewelry making tutorials to help you get started: http://jewelrymaking.craftgossip.com/category/jewelry-making-techniques-ideas/metalwork-jewelry-making-techniques-ideas/
Written by Tamara Pearce, owner of KKL Primitives.