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HISTORY OF THE METAL ARTS GUILD


In 1997, Anne Barros, a highly regarded and successful Canadian metalsmith, authored Ornament & Object: Canadian Jewelry & Metal Art 1946-1996. This comprehensive 50-year history of metal and jewellery in the Canadian craft scene, published by Boston Mills Press, contained many photographs. In honor of the Metal Art Guild's 50th anniversary in 1996, Ms. Barros also wrote the following historical statement, which was published in the Guild's exhibition catalogue.

From Celebration: 50th Anniversary of the Metal Arts Guild exhibition catalogue, 1996, used with permission.


Perhaps the most important legacy of the Metal Arts Guild of Ontario's1 fifty year existence is its exhibition record. The annual juried show has been the guild's primary vehicle for promoting metal are and metal artists. In retrospect, it also forms an important historical archive.


Harold Gordon Stacey, 1911-1997, Toronto, Ontario, Founding member of the Metal Arts Guild and Society of North Amercian Goldsmiths
Coffee set, sterling silver, rosewood,
h. 21 cm, 1950

Until 1950, exhibitions were held regularly at the Royal Ontario Museum in a social flourish attended by members and guests. The photographic record from that period, although limited, reveals both holloware and jewellery, mostly in sterling silver, with highly polished surfaces predominating. Motifs came from nature and gemstones were very important. After 1958, the Steel Trophy, made by found member Harold Stacey in honour of George Steel, was awarded for the Best in Show.

Seventies exhibitions reflected the emergence of graduates, expecially women, from broadened college programmes. The work reveals an interest in experimentation and a wider range of metalworking techniques like fusing and reticulation. Designs were more abstract in form. By the late 1970s acrylics and alternatives became so popular for jewellery that calls for entry stipulated that submissions must contain some metal. After all, the shows were entitled the Medium is Metal.

 

Pat Hunt, Toronto, Ontario,
Brooch, sterling silver, 1969

Reeva Perkins, 1917-1994, Toronto, Ontario,
Brooch, sterling silver, 1971

 

Richard Karphyshin, Winnipeg, Manitoba,
"Where is Abe Lincoln Now"
Steel chain, shacle, wooden missile, made to protest Cold Lake Cruise Missile Testing, 17.5 cm long, 1983

James Robson, Toronto, Ontario
"Look out for the cow!!"
Brooch, sterling silver, copper, 18K gold, shakudo, shibuichi, 3.5 cm x 5.5 cm, 1984

Mid-1980s shows were a riot of colour installed on handmade paper as artists eagerly took up the broad spectrum possible with patinated and anodized metals. Titanium and niobium were highly regarded as were intricate Japanese metalworking techniques like Shakudo and Shibuichi. A Geometric minimalism vied with more traditional organic forms. Experimentation peaked as metal artists questioned jewellery's preciousness and its role in society. Awards were instituted for production jewellery, acknowledging its new stature, and for holloware, whose entries were on the decline.

In 1986, the annual exhibition began adopting a theme for participants to address. Rather than simply submit their year's best work, members were forced to grapple with questions like architectural influences, resources, erotica, and personal "geography". A new maturity and professionalism took hold as evidenced by the photography and fine catalogue documentation. The guild's exhibitions travelled across Canada and to the United States and were acknowledged in European and American journals.

 

Kye-yeon Sun, Halifax, Nova Scotia,
"Hard to Reach"
Pewter, copper, steel, niobium, slate 12x12x8", 1988

Although a period of economic downturn led to the exhibition becoming biennial in 1993, volunteer show committees have continued the tradition of fundraising to encourage and reward excellence in metal. To realize the longstanding goal of a permanent collection of contemporary metalwork in Canada, an agreement with the Canadian Museum of Civilization was reached that facilitates a permanent holding from each exhibition.

Approaching the millennium Canadians interested in art jewellery and holloware are grateful for the foresight of the Metal Arts Guild's founders and the resiliency of their successors. The exhibition record well demonstrates how members have responded to influences from the design and art worlds, the marketplace, new craft techniques, and their own need for personal expression. It also reflects a broader image of both Ontario and Canada that spans cities and fish stocks, materials and ideas, humour and beauty.

Joseé Desjardins, Montréal, Québec
Brooch, sterling silver, 18K gold, coral, 2.5 x 5.5 cm, 1993

Michel Alain Forgues, Bellechasse, Québec,
Sculpture, sterling silver, 14K gold, copper, 1991

 

1 The Metal Arts Guild of Ontario changed its name to The Metal Arts Guild of Canada in 2003.

 

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