DMA Acquires Unique Space Age Silver Centerpiece

The Dallas Museum of Art today announced the acquisition of Celestial Centerpiece, a unique Space Age silver object created for the International Silver Company’s “Moon Room” display at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Designed by Robert J. King (b. 1917), the Centerpiece is an important addition to the Dallas Museum of Art’s modern American silver collection, considered to be the most significant of its type in the world.

Supported by six legs, which appear to continue through the body of the dish to elongated trumpet-form candleholders, the large coupe base of the Celestial Centerpiece serves as a platform for a silver “flowerburst” cluster studded with glittering gemstones. King conceived the idea for the Centerpiece after noticing a six-light candleholder in a New York store window. To the coupe with candleholders King conceived he added a prototype cluster in silver with enameled cup tips (also Dallas Museum of Art Collection), envisioning it surrounded by six tall tapers.

Prompted by International’s management, King revised the design of the central cluster to incorporate cut gemstones and increase the Centerpiece’s lavishness. The final version, executed by silversmith Albert G. Roy, is tipped by 133 spinel sapphires, and was completed shortly before the Fair opened in 1964.

“In 1964 the Celestial Centerpiece declared some of the most creative impulses within modernist silver design and continued the American silver industry’s legacy of presenting luxurious, iconic works at major expositions,” said Kevin W. Tucker, The Margot B. Perot Curator of Decorative Arts and Design of the Dallas Museum of Art. “The Celestial Centerpiece is an exceptional realization of the futuristic visions of the Space Age and unquestionably stands as one of the most significant American silver objects produced in the latter half of the 20th century.”

The centerpiece was central to the otherworldly “Moon Room,” housed within the Fair’s Pavilion of American Interiors. Inspired by the country’s new obsession with space exploration, a key theme of several of the Fair’s exhibits, the “Moon Room” depicted a fantastical dining room setting with unique silver objects amidst a suspended table and chairs of clear plastic set against dark walls twinkling with tiny lights suggesting stars and galaxies.

The Centerpiece, along with other works from the Dallas Museum of Art’s Jewel Stern American Silver Collection and a select number of loans, will be featured in the Museum’s upcoming exhibition Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design, which opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery on Sept. 16, 2005. A lavishly illustrated 392-page catalogue, published by Yale University Press, accompanies the exhibition.

Silver at the Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art began a major effort to collect, exhibit, and interpret silver in 1987 with the gift of the Hoblitzelle Collection of English and Irish silver. In 1989, the Museum purchased several pieces from the Sam Wagstaff Collection including an example of Gorham Manufacturing Company’s extraordinary iceberg bowl, marking the first efforts to build a world-renowned collection of late 19th-century American silver.

In 1994, these efforts were revealed within the Museum’s landmark exhibition and catalogue Silver in America: A Century of Splendor, 1840–1940. By the late 1990s, the Museum acquired such masterworks as the Belmont-Rothschild humidor by Tiffany & Co. and the astounding silver dressing table and stool Gorham produced for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, among other notable works.

In 2002, the Dallas Museum of Art greatly extended its holdings by acquiring the most important private collection of its type—The Jewel Stern American Silver Collection. Assembled over a 20-year period by collector and scholar Jewel Stern, the collection consists of more than 400 pieces of industrially produced American silver made between 1925 and 2000. The addition of this magnificent collection gives the Dallas Museum of Art the most significant holdings of late 19th- and 20th-century American silver in the world and solidifies the Museum’s position as a leading center for scholarship in the field.