Reverberations: Gorham Silver

Reverberations: Gorham Silver is a suite of interpretive media projects that accompanied the exhibition, Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850-1970. This project contained two main components: an audio program called, Reverberations and Workbench, a four-channel video installation.

 

Reverberations: A Gorham Silver Soundwalk is an immersive five part audio program that weaves together primary source interviews, narration, and field recordings into a story that underscores the complicated histories of the Gorham Silver Company. This tour is a mobile experience that utilizes the tools of radio and podcast production (narrative, music, sound design, poetic language, etc.) to offer a more accessible way into the world of an object. Rather than using the typical voices of authority from within the museum, Reverberations expands on notions of expertise by amplifying multiple and varied perspectives in the museum space. The resulting narrative offers an experience that provokes curiosity, passion, and wonder.

 

We built on existing oral histories that were collected through previous efforts in the community, as well as conducted a series of interviews that illuminate the perspectives of past generations of Gorham makers, designers, consumers, and other individuals engaged with and impacted by the company. Topics we consider include industrial growth in the 19th century and major figures who expanded the company; labor throughout the company’s history, exploring not only who had the opportunity to work there and in what capacity, but what working at Gorham meant to its employees; interactions with luxury goods from cross-class perspectives; and social changes in the 20th and 21st centuries that impacted gendered production and consumption as well as consumers’ relationships to objects. This project highlighted unheard or neglected perspectives crucial to our understanding of the people engaged with the company, and its products throughout its history and into the present.

 

The video installation Workbench centered on Gorham’s innovative manufacturing approaches, as well as centuries-old silversmithing processes used by the company’s employees including hammering, raising, spinning, die stamping, chasing, casting, and engraving. Presented as a  four-channel video installation, Workbench combines historic films produced by the Gorham company in the 1920s and ’30s with footage of Rhode Island based contemporary silversmiths, jewelers, and artisans. Many of these people were employed and trained by the company. This emphasized the living nature of silver making processes, and connected the objects in the gallery to the tools and techniques of contemporary makers.

 

Displayed beneath the screens were tools used to execute these processes, as well as in-process objects created in the video. For example, to illustrate the process of spinning, we display chucks, spinning tools, silver blanks, and the final form that corresponds to the chucks. Above these objects, the video displays historic footage of spinning in the Gorham factory, alongside a modern example showing a Providence-based company spinning silver on a lathe. Whenever possible, we used actual tools from Gorham; e.g. Gorham casting dies to demonstrate the intricate casting process of the objects on view in the exhibition.