SMP Logo
SM Publications
The Resource Center for Silver Collectors, Dealers & Appraisers
Home | The Guide | Book of Silver | Links | Orders | For Sale | Forums

Our visit with

Robert A. Butler

Silversmith
November 2004

By Scott & June Martin

Heading home from the Berkshires one weekend we had the opportunity to visit the workshop of silversmith Robert A. Butler. Robert had found his way to the Silver Salon Forums and through circumstance we had all realized that we were within easy geographic range of each other so decided to try to meet face to face.

The first piece we noticed when we walked into the workshop was a glorious baby cup circled by beautifully cast zebras and sporting an elephant head handle. Robert explained that it was a cup he had made for his son.

baby cup

Turning the cup over, we found it well marked, dated and inscribed.

baby cup bottom

This directed our attention to his workbench, which was covered with all manner of animals - a virtual menagerie in silver.

ANIMALS giraffes

ANIMALS finished
turtle, penguin, frog photos by Sarah Blodgett

Robert shared with us his affinity for modeling and casting animals. One of our favorites was the pair of giraffes with intertwined necks. This motif adorns the top of a tureen that Robert made at the request of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. But more on that later.

We asked Mr. Butler how he came to silversmithing as a career and he told us it happened quite by accident. In his senior year of high school, Robert needed to find a work/study project. His grandmother knew a silversmith in London and knowing Robert's strength in art, she offered a standby ticket if he wrote to the smith and organized the work/study arrangement. This he did, but no reply came. As luck would have it, Robert's sister was living in London at the time and he asked her to visit the smith and see if the project was worth pursuing. She did visit, found the smith to be top notch and got agreement on Robert's work/study program.

With no knowledge of silver work, Robert found himself in Michael Murray's workshop for eight weeks in the winter of 1972. Mr. Murray took young Robert under his wing and Robert had an almost instant affinity for the craft. After 2 copper practice pieces, at the suggestion of Murray, Robert started a silver tea set as a thank you for his grandmother. A second year art college silversmithing student (who had not yet made a teapot) visited the workshop the 7th week, and admiring the almost finished set (Murray's design) asked how many years he had been smithing...according to Butler, "Michael was a great teacher!" A piece from his grandmother's tea set happened to be in the workshop that day and we got to admire the work firsthand

teapot

That early indication of his talent convinced Robert to stay on in the Michael Murray workshop for three years while also attending evening classes at the Sir John Cass School of Art to further study chasing and engraving. He spent another year in London before returning home to the United States in 1976 to join Gebelein Silversmiths in Boston. In 1977, he opened his own workshop and has actively maintained a workshop ever since.

His talents as a silversmith are obvious in his works, but Mr. Butler exudes a charming modesty in explaining that he feels he has been slow to venture into new techniques and slow to perfect them. He started wax carving after 10 years of silversmithing. Robert's measured development provides good support for the old adage "Good things are worth waiting for."

Mr. Butler is often approached for commission work and his portfolio includes some very notable pieces. The Museum of Fine Arts tureen we referred to earlier is a fantastic creation that combines simple elegant lines with the animal motifs that Robert executes so well. The zebras meander around the body of the tureen while four elephant heads boldly serve as the tureen platform with crocodiles swimming between their trunks and the giraffes with necks entwined endearingly peer out for all to see from atop the tureen lid.

bma
photo by Dean Powell

This is not to say that all of his work uses the animal theme. Another commission was for a coffee set done in modernistic style with no adornment but using curves and angles to bring the silver to life.

teaset
photo by Dean Powell

And one of our favorite commissions is the fish slice that Mr. Butler did for Seymour Rabinovitch. The slice can be seen in Mr. Rabinovitch's book Contemporary Silver which discusses the virtues of commissioning and collecting silver. Mr. Butler's fish slice is a marvel of cast, chased and pierced sea life.

fish slice

A viable business cannot exist on commissions alone and so the Butler workshop is also involved with production work where castings are used to reduce the amount of handwork needed to produce functional and beautiful silver items. Wine coasters are fashioned using wax molds and cast and hammered sterling seahorse bookmarks are very popular items. Small pieces are marked with his old London assay maker's mark.

winecoaster

winecoasters
Mushroom & Acorn Coaster photos by Sarah Blodgett

Sitting amongst the tools of his trade, we asked Robert to speculate about his future. We had a lengthy discussion about production vs. commission. The castings have allowed Mr. Butler to expand his production considerably and it is his hope that his workshop can reach a level of production that will allow him more time to focus on speculative pieces. These pieces would of course be one of a kind and be pure expressions of the artist and the technician. While commission work still plays a role in the Butler workshop, it is truly the longer-term projects that interest Mr. Butler.

R. Butler      

After a most inspiring visit, Robert displayed to us another one of his talents. He is a whiz in the kitchen and served us up a delicious homemade turkey soup before sending us on our way home.

Thank you, Robert, for a fascinating visit.



Contact Us | SM Publications | Silver Salon Forums


| Home | Order | The Guide to Evaluating Gold & Silver Objects | The Book of Silver | Forums |
| Silver Gallery | For Sale | Our Wants List | Silver Dealers | Speakers Bureau |
| Silversmiths | How to set a table | Shows | SMP | Silver News |
© 2004-12 SM Publications
All Rights Reserved.
Legal & Privacy Notices