As we find ourselves surrounded by fifties silver, it is only fitting that we pause for a moment to consider the decorative arts in a wider perspective. The mid-twentieth century saw a surge of interest in the artistic and decorative crafts. Special provincial committees were set up to guide and stimulate this vogue, while numerous local and even international exhibitions focussed on the creative talent of new generations of Belgian artisans. This article looks at one such exhibition mounted during the early years of Sterckshof Museum.
The whole world was determined to show itself in the best possible light at Expo 58, and this of course included the Province of Antwerp. But whereas the other Belgian provinces promoted their tourist attractions, Antwerp tried a rather different tack with a project entitled ‘Scheppend ambacht in de Provincie Antwerpen’ (Creative Handicrafts in the Province of Antwerp). The best of what creative talent in the region had to offer was showcased in a modern provincial government building, sending out the message that Antwerp was a thriving artistic province where artistic and decorative crafts could interact with an industrial production and, moreover, would not be out of place alongside similar displays in the international pavilions at the World Fair.
A stunning exhibition was put together drawing on the experience of the Provincial Committee for Artistic and Decorative Crafts and, equally, on the expertise of Piet Baudouin, curator of what was then the Sterckshof Artistic and Decorative Arts Museum. The result was a varied collection of recent work by the cream of the artisanal artists from the Province of Antwerp. More than 150 items were on show, from stained-glass windows and book bindings, through furniture and ceramics, to silver and tapestries – to name just the most noteworthy categories.
The article sketches a picture of the Province of Antwerp's pavilion at the World Fair in Brussels and the colourful palette of artistic and decorative crafts visitors were able to admire in a unique setting. Finally the exhibition in question is briefly examined in the light of on-going research into the role of a series of creative handicrafts exhibitions held in the 1950s and 60s in an effort to revive the decorative and artistic crafts.
To tie in with the ‘Fifties Silver’ exhibition, several items – made of silver and other materials – from the ‘Scheppend ambacht in de Provincie’ project are brought together again for the first time in many years.