The Paul & Terry Somerson Collection
Largest private collection of American Arts & Crafts metalwork and jewelry
On May 5, 2019, Toomey & Co. held a single-owner auction, The Paul & Terry Somerson Collection of 20th and 21st Century Metalwork and Jewelry. This carefully curated sale showcased the largest private collection of American Arts & Crafts metalwork and jewelry ever assembled. The Somerson Collection also featured a range of impressive works by modern and contemporary silversmiths and makers. Altogether, 500 lots were included in the auction, the sell-through rate was 93%, and the total result with premium was $650,000.
Paul Somerson was a highly successful tech journalist and author in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2001, Paul and his wife Terry began collecting American Arts & Crafts metalwork and jewelry as well as Stickley furniture, art pottery tiles, and vintage photography. Paul eventually founded ChicagoSilver.com, a guide to Chicago's renowned Kalo Shop and other Arts & Crafts makers. On May 25, 2018, Paul died unexpectedly at age 68. We were deeply saddened by his passing, but it was a distinct honor to handle The Paul & Terry Somerson Collection.
Since 2019, Toomey & Co. has offered a variety of additional material from The Somerson Collection at auction.
Arts & Crafts Pioneers
Founded in Chicago in 1900 by Clara P. Barck and five fellow female graduates of Louis J. Millet's decorative design course at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Kalo Shop rose to be the most important American Arts & Crafts silversmith studio in the United States. The shop was founded on Millet's teachings and they adopted the motto "beautiful, useful, and enduring" for their wares.
The shop originally created burnt wood, leatherwork, and other decorative arts along with jewelry. Many items from the earliest period are quite scarce and, to date, no one has discovered a surviving example of one of their early successes: an Arabian-cutout-decorated shopping bag in brown and yellow leather.
Barck married George Welles in 1905. Welles was a coal merchant and an amateur silversmith. It was Welles who encouraged Barck to focus more on objects made of copper and silver. In 1906, Barck's sister purchased a large home in Park Ridge, Illinois and soon transferred ownership to the Kalo Shop in return for stock in the company. This location served as a hub for the Kalo Arts & Crafts Community.
Professional Silver Specialists
In 1907, Barck employed her first professional silversmith. By 1908, she established a school and would go on to teach and employ many female designers and artisans, known as the "Kalo Girls," along with various male silversmiths. This collaboration of female designers and male smiths proved quite advantageous to the firm. In 1912, Barck opened a Kalo branch in New York that lasted until 1916, just before the First World War.
The shop employed many notable silversmiths that went on to open their own studios and Barck encouraged their entrepreneurship, but they were required to mark all works produced during regular business hours with the Kalo stamp. When employees were off the clock, they were free to use the shop to make their own works (as long as they did not mark them with the Kalo stamp). Many copper, silver, and gold items still exist that were undoubtedly made by a Kalo silversmith but are unmarked. These were likely made for family members, friends, or coworkers.
Some of the noted Kalo silversmiths include: Grant Wood (painter of American Gothic, now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago), Matthias W. Hanck, Julius Olaf Randahl, Henri A. Eicher, C.H. Didrich, David and Walter Mulholland, B.B. Andersen, Edward Breese, Yngve Olsson, Kristoffer Haga, Robert R. Bower, and many others. Barck retired in 1939 and moved to San Diego. She gifted the Kalo Shop in 1959 to the four remaining workers: Robert R. Bower, Arne Myhre, Yngve Olsson, and Daniel Pedersen.
Over time, there were few new silversmiths entering the trade and the decision was made to close the shop in 1970 after Olsson passed away. There were not enough staff members to continue making silver in accordance with the high standards of the founding motto.
Kalo's Distinctive Style
Kalo is particularly known for its "puffy" jewelry lines. These objects are quite organic in composition, designed to reveal fruits of various trees, flowers, and leaves. The most popular items during Kalo's tenure were the cherry-motif bracelet, necklace, brooch, clip, and ear-clip earring sets.
Other artisan-designed or one-off examples with semi-precious stones or pearls may be found on rare occasion. With holloware, Kalo was well known for naturalistic lobes executed on bowls, trays, and other forms. The model "18" bowl is a classic and was offered in three sizes.
All of the designs produced throughout the Kalo Shop's span are virtually timeless. The jewelry, holloware, flatware, and other decorative objects are highly sought after to this day. The earliest work stamped with a Park Ridge mark, made from 1905 to 1911, has the highest demand, while works from the Chicago and New York period (1912-1916) are nearly as popular.
All works are coveted by collectors regardless of when they were made and many collectors purchase items from every period to show the timeline of the shop and its range of creations. The shop was prolific and objects continue to surface all over, but the rarest examples will always demand a premium. Objects with stones, repoussé work, or added decoration tend to be exquisite and embody the epitome of the ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement.
Art Institute of Chicago Profile: Silver from the Kalo Shop
To understand the Kalo Shop more fully, you may take a virtual tour offered by the Art Institute of Chicago that examines the skillful metalworking that went into a making a pair of sterling silver covered dishes.
To learn more about the Kalo Shop and other Chicago silversmiths, you may consult the following publications:
Chicago Metalsmiths by Sharon S. Darling, Chicago Historical Society, 1977
Creating Beauty: Jewelry and Enamels of the American Arts & Crafts Movement by Rosalie Berberian, Schiffer Publishing, 2019
Hand Wrought Arts & Crafts Metalwork & Jewelry: 1890-1940 by Darcy L. Evon, Schiffer Publishing, 2013
"The Lives and Times of Three Chicago Metalsmiths" (covering Yngve Harald Olsson, Robert Riddle Jarvie, and Jessie Preston) by Barbara Schnitzer, Art Institute of Chicago, October 13, 2020
Auction Results The Kalo Shop
The Kalo Shop
Pendant necklace in a transitional Arts & Crafts to Art Nouveau motif
The Kalo Shop
Collection of drawings, renderings and photographs of holloware and jewelry designs
The Kalo Shop
early and large samovar raised on cabriole legs terminating in paw feet, #7493
The Kalo Shop
large tapered vase with repeating notched decoration and an applied rim, #5426