When you think of the age-old art of silversmithing, you may first think of a lovely dining room place setting, a delicate mirror and brush set, a baby’s silver cup or rattle, or even jewelry from Tiffany. However, there are many differing aspects to a silversmith’s work, beyond creating intricate and beautiful items. In addition to creating both practical items and works of art, many smiths like Jim and Sharon Mackie at Art Craft also focus on restoration and repair.
Art Craft Silversmith, owned and operated by Jim and Sharon Mackie is a distinct nod to how things have been done in the smithing industry for too many generations to count. Jim Mackie himself has been smithcrafting since 1974, with Sharon acting as the studio manager (and then some!) who has a strong passion for uncovering the history behind countless silver pieces orphaned by time.
In today’s technological age, these handmade silver items are often tarnished, unused, and unappreciated. Jim and Sharon Mackie of Art Craft Silversmith know all too well just how many hidden silver treasures are out there – they receive numerous and various pieces at their studio in Portland Oregon (3111 SE 13th Ave., Suite 500) every single week. Oftentimes people will stop by with items found in a relative’s storage container or while cleaning out the family garage; items they can’t yet see the value in but are intrigued by. And when Sharon educates these clients about just what they’ve found, the art of restoration begins.
Smithing as an art and trade has always been taught via apprenticeship – passed down through generations of artisan workers – each generation learning from those who came before. Alan Adler, a well-known silversmith, naturally began in the craft as an apprentice, in 1938. His name became connected with Hollywood at the height of the glamorous 1940s. Adler is best known for having designed mini-Oscars for Academy Award winners as well as crowns for the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants.
John Coney, one of the first and best-known American silversmiths, rose to prominence in Boston in the late 1600s. His work can be seen at the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery. His last apprentice was Apollos Rivoire, who son is better known as Paul Revere.
Paul Revere actually had a flourishing career in smithing after the Revolutionary War. His work can still be seen today in museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Harold Hansen, a long-retired silversmith from Art Craft, is another example of one artisan passing the craft down through the generations, to others. Jim Mackie himself apprenticed with Harold, eventually taking over the business and the studio.
Silver is a malleable metal that is worked cold, it is “work hardened” with steel tools and then goes through an annealing process. Annealing is a heat treating, or softening, of the metal which is used to remove tension before brazing, helping to reduce warpage. (from the Society of American Silversmiths Glossary) Once a smith has determined the shape and outcome of their design, they work the metal using the above processes, adding flourishes and decorations, soldering or riveting the piece(s) together as needed, ultimately producing visually stunning works of art as well as practical items, no less beautiful, for everyday use.
For freehand work, which is Jim Mackie’s particular specialty, a unique design is created with a wax carving, which is then rubber-molded before being cast. (Quite a few silversmiths also work with pewter. Pewter has a lower melting point, is a less precious metal and allows a smith to create lovely items at a lower price point.)
The restoration and repair work done by the smiths are works of art in and of themselves. When Jim and Sharon receive those items previously hidden away in attics and storage boxes, they have become tarnished, or the patina may have been scratched or otherwise compromised. In some cases, entire parts of an item or of a set of items may have gone missing in the passage of time. The smiths are skilled at restoring these pieces to their former glory. However, sometimes in order to do so they must break down an item into its respective parts, restore the parts individually, and then solder everything back together. A labor intensive process to be sure.
A good smith will bring an object back to shining life while maintaining respect for the history and the value of the piece. Finding the originating province, or tracking down the history of an item only adds to its value, both sentimental and monetary.
One such item that found it’s way into Jim and Sharon’s ArtCraft Silversmiths studio was a gorgeous Sterling Silver Tiffany’s Spectacle case (glasses case). Jim and Sharon were able to trace back the house engraved on the case to a specific home built in the 1900s. Adding to the history of a piece with information and context is in some cases just as important as the restoration work on the piece itself.
The Art Craft Facebook page is a treasure trove of wonderful pictures and interesting facts that are fun to read and share – lending to the whimsy and joy behind the work that Jim and Sharon do. (For instance, did you know that the original “spork” was created to eat ice cream by the Victorians? Now you do!)
Although much of today’s silverwork has become industrialized, the hands-on work of a silversmith has stayed very much the same throughout the years. The work is still done piece by piece in large vats of special and specific chemicals and metals, and the artistry is still treasured by many.
Art Craft Silversmith is located at 3111 SE 13th Ave., Suite 500 on the southwest corner of Powell Blvd and 13th Ave (enter the studio from parking lot in back) Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am-5pm 503.233.7074