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Tastemaker: Silver Student | Margo Grant Walsh

Name a form of silverware—serving spoons, say. Margo Grant Walsh can show how designers have been interpreting it for the past century: by fluting or banding the handle or encrusting it with flora, or by scalloping or piercing or smoothing the bowl.

Walsh, the vice-chairman of a 2,000-person firm called Gensler that designs corporate interiors, is a born collector. "I love seeing the different solutions to similar design problems," Walsh says. "And I love researching manufacturers, techniques and traditions in different countries and eras—it's my one form of relaxation."

For the past 30 years, her main fixation has been silver. It all began when a client for a Goldman Sachs design project asked her to create a display case for a 17th-century silver pitcher. She realized she didn't know much about silver and plunged into a research project from which she has yet to emerge. Drawers in her Manhattan apartment are now stuffed with nearly 1,000 pieces of paper-wrapped silver, mostly flatware. Dozens of her larger treasures—candelabras, pitchers—sit on bookshelves.

Walsh finds herself particularly drawn to silver from the Arts and Crafts movement. Most of her pieces were made between 1890 and 1910, by smiths reacting against the ornamental excesses of mass-produced Victorian metalwork. Arts and Crafts artisans subtly exaggerated rivets and hinges and lightly hammered surfaces to leave traces of their handcrafting.

Most of the items in Walsh's collection cost between $500 and $5,000 and have hallmarks of well-known Arts and Crafts silversmiths such as the Kalo Shop and Liberty & Co. Arts and Crafts silver is still undervalued, she says, because collectors of that style tend to prefer the more rustic look of copper. Walsh has also delved into midcentury Scandinavian design and contemporary British whimsies like gilded fish-scale cutlery.

Walsh is trying to clear space in her apartment: She's donated 250 items to the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. But she keeps buying more, from purveyors such as Nathan Horowicz Antiques in New York City; Ark Antiques in New Haven, Connecticut; and Hancocks & Co., London Silver Vaults and Van Den Bosch, all in London.

Eve Kahn

Published November 2003
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