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Dallas Museum of Art acquires Eliel Saarinen’s Architectonic Tea Urn from the 1930s

The Dallas Museum of Art announced the acquisition of a major work for its acclaimed decorative arts and design collection, a spherical tea or hot water urn designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950) for the Wilcox division of the International Silver Company.

Eliel Saarinen, Wilcox Silver Plate Company, division of, International Silver Company, Tea urn, Designed c. 1932-1933, Silverplate, Dallas Museum of Art, The Patsy Lacy Griffith Collection, gift of Patsy Lacy Griffith by exchange, General Acquisitions Fund, and gift of Susan and Eric Saarinen.

The spare, architectonic form of this tea urn reflects both the designer’s penchant for elegantly precise shapes and a trend for such boldly geometric and machine-like forms during the 1930s, when streamlining became the dominant style in industrial design. The plume-like finial and a spout handle suggestive of a bird wing also suggest the designer’s admiration for organic motifs wrought from images of nature. The urn is currently on view in a silver installation on the second floor landing closest to the Ross Avenue entrance to the Museum.

Although the silverplated urn was ultimately intended for mass production, design variations suggest that its production was not only quite limited but may have been virtually made-to-order. A prototype version of the urn, with a companion tray, creamer, and sugar bowl in brass and silverplate, is now held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other examples were produced for the Cranbrook Schools, and one version of the urn was presented in Saarinen’s display for the 1934 Contemporary American Industrial Art exhibition, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1935 the International Silver Company offered a twenty-six-cup urn of modified design along with a companion tray. Other extant examples include one in the collection of the Cranbrook Art Museum, another at the British Museum, and yet another in the St. Louis Art Museum. Beyond this work and his Contempora pattern of flatware and holloware for the firm of Dominick & Haff (1930) and a centerpiece bowl (1929) produced by Charter, Saarinen did not create any other designs for production silver. This example of the urn, which appeared in the Museum’s 2005 exhibition Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design, descended in the Saarinen family.

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