The Ptarmigan Vase: A unique treasure enters National Gallery of Canada’s collection
Ottawa - January 27, 2011
New purchase brings together a B.C. mining story, First Nations imagery and Japanese “woodgrain metal” technique
Thanks to a generous contribution from the Department of Canadian Heritage's Movable Cultural Property Program, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) has acquired a unique and highly-significant vase for its international art collection. The Ptarmigan Vase, made of copper, silver and gold, was designed by the exceptionally-talented American Tiffany & Co. designer George Paulding Farnham.
"We were attracted to this extraordinary vase because it tells the story of how Canadian and American cultures are closely connected," said Marc Mayer, Director and CEO of the NGC. “According to every expert we have consulted, the vase is one of the most ambitious decorative objects of its kind in existence. Canada is the best home for the Ptarmigan Vase. Purchasing it was an extremely time-sensitive exercise and we are most grateful to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, who responded quickly and decisively to our request for financial assistance."
“The Ptarmigan Vase, with the powerful British Columbia imagery adorning it, is a unique historical and cultural artifact of outstanding significance for all Canadians,” said the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. “Our Government is proud to have contributed to its patriation, as it will undoubtedly be a valuable addition to our national heritage and to the National Gallery’s collection.”
About the designer Paulding Farnham
From 1885 to 1907, George Paulding Farnham (1859-1927) was the chief designer at New York's Tiffany & Company, a leading manufacturer of fine jewellery and objets de luxe. Between 1889 and 1901, Farnham won several gold medals for his flamboyant showpieces at prestigious international expositions in Europe and North America. In 1907, he left Tiffany’s to devote himself entirely to the Ptarmigan Mines in the Kootenay region of south eastern British Columbia. In the end, he lost his fortune, but was immortalized in the names of Mount Farnham and Paulding Creek, and in this magnificent vase celebrating his Canadian mining exploits.
The Ptarmigan Vase, circa 1900-05
This monumental (63.5 cm high) vase fuses together layers of copper and silver using the traditional Japanese mokume (“woodgrain metal”) technique. Crafted in silver, a rock ptarmigan—a type of grouse native to the Kootenay region—perches atop a rim ringed with elaborate silver and copper designs inspired by First Nations sculpture and basketry. The front of the vase is adorned in gold with the British Columbia Coat of Arms. Below this is a stylized copper cross, trimmed with a silver inscription designating the longitude and latitude of the mountain stream still known as Paulding Creek. The base of the vase features designs reminiscent of Apache basketry, and the underside is inscribed with the names of the five principle New York-based master craftsmen (Hannweber, Swamby, Thoma, Barker and Spengler) who worked with Farnham at Tiffany’s.
A welcome addition to the nation's collection of decorative arts
At the NGC, the Ptarmigan Vase will join company with rarities such as an ancient Roman cup carved out of a huge piece of sardonyx and transformed into an oil lamp in the early 19th century, and with the Walker Cup—a magnificent silver trophy commissioned from the Rhode Island-based Gorham company by American distiller Hiram Walker, and presented to the Ontario Jockey Club in 1894. These custom luxury objects defy easy categorization with their eccentric innovations of style, technique and imagery. The vase will also complement the largest and most precious collection of Canadian silver in the world—the NGC’s Henry-Birks Collection of Canadian silver, given to the nation in 1979.
About the Movable Cultural Property Program
The Government of Canada is providing funding to the National Gallery of Canada for the purchase of the Ptarmigan Vase under the Movable Cultural Property Program, administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage. This program helps collecting institutions repatriate cultural property to Canada, or keep in Canada cultural objects of outstanding significance and national importance that would otherwise be exported.
About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art, including the extensive collection of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Gallery also maintains Canada's premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. To do so, it maintains the largest touring art exhibition programme in the world. For more information, visit gallery.ca.
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