Robert Riddle Jarvie
Getting Started with Metalwork
Born to Scottish parents in Schenectady, New York in 1865, Robert Riddle Jarvie was not formally trained in metalsmithing, but he had an early penchant for sketching, bookbinding, and cabinet making. Once he relocated to Chicago, Jarvie began initial experiments with metalwork around the turn of the 20th century in his apartment. In particular, a distinctive lantern that Jarvie made for a friend attracted more buyers.
The Jarvie Shop Opens
At the Third Annual Chicago Arts and Crafts Exhibit in 1900, Jarvie had the first opportunity to showcase his work. That same year he became a partner at Krayle Co., a commercial and social alliance of local artisans and craftsmen, and set up his studio, the Jarvie Shop, in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue.
Midwestern Arts & Crafts Designer
While Jarvie’s designs had previously ranged from Colonial to Art Nouveau, he soon developed simpler organic forms that represented a Midwestern take on the Arts & Crafts Movement. Between 1910 and 1915, Jarvie began forging products using precious metals such as gold and silver that garnered wide acclaim. Charles Hutchinson, President of the Art Institute of Chicago, commissioned Jarvie to produce a silver punch bowl for the Cliff Dwellers Club of Chicago, as both men were members; Jarvie modeled his design on an object used by Southwestern cliff dwellers that he had seen at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.
Union Stock Yard and Retirement
In 1912, Jarvie started creating functional trophies such as bowls, drinkware, and other forms for the Union Stock Yard Company. Jarvie also lived on the premises. Some of his works from this period are reminiscent of Paul Revere’s style. After World War I, the Jarvie Shop ceased operations. Jarvie and his wife then moved to Evanston, Illinois, since she was employed at Northwestern University, and Jarvie worked briefly for the C.D. Peacock Company. The Jarvies later retired to the Scottish Old People’s Home in North Riverside, Illinois until their passing. During the Arts & Crafts revival of the late 20th century, collectors developed a renewed appreciation for the metalwork of Jarvie. Today examples of his designs are represented at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and elsewhere.
“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
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