Friday, December 6, 2013

Gorham Silver, Part 5: The Bronzes

George Washington bronze at U.S. Capitol Rotunda; manufactured in 1909 by Gorham Silver.
George Washington bronze, 1909.
Gorham had started making small bronze pieces in 1860, and in the 1880s they opened an ecclesiastical department, making silver chalices, patens, cups, and crosses for churches. It was a logical next step to make bronze items for churches--lecterns, altar rails, doors, crucifixes, and sculptures.

In 1885, they made their first large non-ecclesiastical bronze sculpture for a Civil War memorial at Gettysburg, a statue called The Skirmisher. The sculptor, Frederick Kohlhagen, had approached Gorham to see if they were interested in casting it. Prior to that point, most large scale bronze casting had been done in Europe, but Gorham's completion of the project was the beginning of a hugely successful large scale bronze casting business.

Today there are over 700 Gorham bronze items listed in the Smithsonian Archives inventory of American sculpture. One of the best-known pieces is a 1909 bronze of George Washington that has a place of honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Independent Man atop the RI State House; cast by Gorham Silver in 1899.
The Independent Man, 1899.
There are many Gorham bronzes in New England, included the Shaw Memorial by St.-Gaudens opposite the Boston Statehouse, the Gloucester MA Fisherman, the Brown Bear "Bruno" on the Brown University Quad, the Carrie Brown Bajnotti memorial fountain in Burnside Park in Providence, the Independent Man atop the Rhode Island Statehouse, and half a dozen statues at Roger Williams Park in Providence.

Some of the finest work done by Gorham in bronze were the doors, railings, etc. that enhanced many American public buildings in the first years of the 20th century. In Providence, the company carried out bronze commissions at the Union Trust Building, the First Baptist Church, the Fleet Library at RISD, the Mathewson Street Methodist Church, and the Old Stone Bank.

The Old Stone Bank had started out as the Providence Institution for Savings, but earned its moniker after its flagship stone building was constructed in 1854. In 1896-1898 a major expansion was done on the bank, doubling its size and adding an impressive dome.

Old Stone Bank door, Providence RI; cast by Gorham Silver 1898.
Closeup of Old Stone door with RI anchor, 1898.
As part of this project, beautiful bronze doors by Gorham were installed. They weighed over 1,000 pounds apiece, and, according to a Providence Journal article from the opening 1898, are "so easily poised that they swing on their ball bearing pintles and hinges as easily as an ordinary house door made of wood."

The doors would stay open during banking hours, and entrance to the bank was through a marble vestibule with mahogany doors.

Besides its new dome and new doors, the bank was also equipped with the latest technology. The same Providence Journal article states: "The bank is equipped with a telephone closet with its long distance telephone, and also has an internal system by which the Treasurer, sitting at his desk, can talk not only through the telephone exchange to persons outside, but also to clerks within the bank and to the Providence National Bank."

(to be continued)

Illustration Credits and References

Photo of George Washington bronze by CharmaineZoe found on FlickRiver.

Photo of Independent Man by Trent Maynard, found on the State Capitols website.

Photo of Old Stone Bank door by the author.

Providence Sunday Journal, March 6, 1898.

An exhaustive history of Gorham can be found in the book Gorham Silver by Charles H. Carpenter, Jr. (Revised edition published 1997 by Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, San Francisco.)

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