Sarah D. Coffin

A Strong Design for a Woman of Strong Tastes


This soup plate is one of my favorite designs of all times. Its wonderful, overlapping, radiating arcs create a design for any era. On this plate the design is moulded and sculpted in relief suggesting an openwork basketweave, with hand-painted highlights in gold set with pink-painted flowerheads where the weave crosses.
soup plate, hard-paste, Porcelain, Russia, Elizabeth, Meissen, trellis, Rastrelli

Festive Foil?


The holiday season brings out the idea at least of festive parties, and, to some, that means putting on fancy clothes and jewelry.  The idea of glittering adornment to dazzle goes back to antiquity and gold has been a constant. However, innovative use of new materials, so popular now, is not new. The choice of materials is ever evolving. 
jewelry, aluminum, gold, Empress Eugenie, Queen Victoria, Crystal Palace, innovation, demi-parure, brooch, earrings

A Drawing Room GPS


Some people still remember men who, from a small slit pocket in a waistcoat, pulled out a round pocket watch on a chain, can only think of knapsacks and hiking gear when they hear the word compass.
compass, Sundial, engraving, Neptune, four continents, mermaid

America's Beauty on a Vase


This beautiful depiction of an encampment at sunset conjures up the idealism of the American landscape that artists like Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran helped to create in paintings [Fig.1].
Indian, Native American, tepee, sunset, Frederic EdwinChurch, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, Adirondacks, camps, Edward Timothy Hurley, Rookwood, ceramic, stoneware, glaze

A Cabinet of Surprises


This cabinet, that looks more like a dining room side cabinet than a writing cabinet at first glance, caught my eye when I first saw it upon arriving at Cooper-Hewitt as a curator. I considered the Arts and Crafts movement an area in which I had some knowledge, so I was fascinated that I had to try to guess who designed this piece and where. When I looked at it from the outside, I thought it might be British, thought about Belgium, but felt I should look for comparable objects--which I did but without much luck.
cabinet, writing cabinet, May Sarton, Mabel Sarton, Wiener Werkstätte, Margaret Macdonald, Glasgow, vienna, inlay, mother-of-pearl

An Exotic Cake Knife


Cakes and ice cream were the rage in the United States in the nineteenth century. People often entertained at tea and for dessert parties, so this meant the implements to serve these treats were often specialty items that did not match silver services for the dinner table. Some cake knives doubled as ice cream saws as their cutting edge could also saw through the brick-like consistency of ice cream kept cold with blocks of ice.
cake knife, cake saw, ice cream saw, exoticism, Frederic Edwin Church, Lockwood de Forest, silver, flatware

More than a Mouthful


Until the seventeenth century–and even after that–knives and forks were personal accoutrements that travelled with their owner.  They were also a status symbol and something you might present to an honored guest or your host to show off the artistry of your home area, and to signal your wealth and refinement.  Even the use of the fork showed a level of refinement when this spoon and fork were made.  The individual fork started its life for eating desserts–candied fruits–at dessert banquets.
spoon, fork, coral, silver-gilt, flatware, carving, eating, dining, German, engravings

Seductive Holders for Seductive Sweets


This small object has no real comparable in current life, even though we still like sweets.  While small lovely pillboxes might count, those have their own counterparts in the eighteenth century.  We do not normally carry around little boxes of candies in luxurious containers today, even if we are thrilled with special chocolates brought to us at home.  The bonbonnière belongs to a type of object often called an “object of vertu” in which the word vertu means virtuosity.
bonbonniere, sweets, candy, object of vertu, gold, enamel, agate, container

Sitting on Sculpture


Many people say “Chippendale” when they see a chair with a carved and pierced back.  While it is true that Thomas Chippendale designed such chairs and his workshop produced similar models, the reason such chairs bear his name is because of the book of designs he published, The Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s Director the first edition of which was in 1754.
chair, Chippendale, carving, england, Scotland, Ireland, Affleck, Philadelphia, damask, mahogany, red walnut, Director

Butterflies are free to let ones spirits fly


When I saw a few of these wonderful butterfly brooches while creating the checklist as curator of Cooper-Hewitt’s 2011 exhibition Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels two things came immediately to mind. The first was what perfect Cooper-Hewitt objects they were, as examples of jewelry design, and as examples of Japanese lacquerwork, a technique represented in the collection but not in jewelry.  The wonderful combination of historic techniques from two cultures combined to create a contemporary object appealed to me for the collection. 
butterfly, lacquer, diamonds, jewelry, inro, Van Cleef & Arpels, Set in Style, water, waves

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