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Have a Bite: 20th-Century Flatware from the Collection

April 12–October 26, 2003

Cutting devices were among the earliest utensils fashioned by man. Eating utensils tended to be simple in design until the late medieval period, when knives in particular began to display considerable innovation in design and construction.

Flatware changed little in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; however, by the latter part of the nineteenth century many of the most important designers of the day were producing designs for flatware. While this trend continued in the twentieth century, the greatest change in the design and production of flatware in that century was brought about by the invention in 1914 of stainless steel in Sheffield, England, and by the development of plastic.

The installation will include some thirty flatware sets from the museum’s collection of modern and contemporary design. Among the sets exhibited are several manufactured by C. Hugo Pott, the German firm that revolutionized the flatware industry by the use of simple, unadorned forms inspired by the ideas of the Bauhaus, as well as sets by such influential twentieth-century designers as Josef Hoffmann, Arne Jacobsen, Tapio Wirkkala, and Lino Sabattini.

The show will also include a number of sets of utensils designed for people with special needs who, because of arthritis or other physical impairment, might have difficulty with standard flatware. Among the most recent designs is a set called ”Mono Tools,” designed by Michael Schneider, in which the rather primitive shapes are meant to be references to some of the early utensils employed by man.

Main Building


Donna Corbin, Assistant Curator of European Decorative Arts

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