Silver Streak: Quick Bite

Happy Friday! Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re celebrating Women’s History Month with artist Elizabeth E. Copeland and her dazzling Ciborium (c1915). Handcrafted from silver this gorgeous goblet was made to hold Eucharistic bread used in the Christian church.

Ciborium (c1915) by Elizabeth E. Copeland, Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Zoom in and notice Copeland’s colorful enamel work. The flowery motif is her signature style. Also note, the silver-beaded trim, weighty lid, and sturdy base. Copeland intentionally crafted her work to appear rough and hand wrought in an effort to give her work a medieval vibe. Flashy and functional, Copeland’s ciborium no doubt added a touch of pizzazz to the Christian ritual of receiving Holy Communion.

Close-Ups of Ciborium (c1915) by Elizabeth E. Copeland, Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Artist Background:  Elizabeth Ethel Copeland (1866-1957) was born in North Chelsea, Massachusetts (modern-day Revere, MA), at the time, a rural town just north of Boston. Little is written about her childhood, however, in the 1870s, Copeland and her family moved to a dairy farm in Bedford, MA. At age 24, Copeland enrolled in Cowles Art School in Boston and made the long commute into the city several times a week. She learned metalworking and enameling, and subsequently began taking design classes at Harvard. Within a year, Copeland began exhibiting her work.

Left: Brooch (1907) by Elizabeth E. Copeland, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Right: Good Housekeeping Article Featuring Silver & Pearl Necklace (1906) by Elizabeth E. Copeland

Delighted by her obvious talent, Sarah Choate Sears (1858-1935), a philanthropist, fellow enameler, and co-founder of the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, befriended Copeland. Choate became a devout patron of the young artist, even going so far as to finance a trip abroad so Copeland could study and perfect her craft in Europe.

Left: Silver Candlestick (1917) by Elizabeth E. Copeland, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Upper Right: Silver Enamel Box (1914) by Elizabeth E Copeland, Brooklyn Museum

Lower Right: Silver Enamel Box (1914) by Elizabeth E Copeland, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Upon her return, Copeland established her workshop in Boston and became an influential member of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Known for her exquisite jewelry and silver-enameled boxes, Copeland exhibited her award-winning work throughout the United States including the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Fun Arty Fact #1: The Arts & Crafts Movement began in the United Kingdom in the 1860s in reaction to the mechanized aesthetic of the Industrial Revolution. The emphasis of ACM art is on design, craftsmanship, and functional art. Copeland’s ciborium’s arty functionality (pretty and practical!) is an excellent example of ACM art.

Peacock & Dragon Textile (1876) designed by William Morris, Art Institute of Chicago

Copeland was one of a small group of female artists able to support herself financially through her art. She retired in 1937 at the age of 71. Some accounts indicate her retirement was a result of the new social security system put in place by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Thus, she no longer had to rely entirely on her art for financial support. Copeland died 20 years later at the age of 91. If you’d like to view more of her stunning work, click on this Elizabeth E. Copeland link, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Fun Arty Fact #2: The Arts & Crafts Movement flourished in the US in the 1890s, especially in Boston. The ACM offered many opportunities for female artists, including education, training, and patronage.

It also provided a platform for artists to exhibit their work, sell their wares, and educate the public on their philosophy of functional art. Click on this ACM link, courtesy of The Art Story to learn more.

Boston Architectural Club Exhibition Sign (1897) Digital Common Wealth

Fun Author Fact: On this date several decades ago, I coincidentally took part in my First Communion, a Christian ceremony celebrating the first time I received Eucharistic bread. The ciborium used in the ceremony was a sleek, unadorned gold. Click on this First Communion link, courtesy of Beau Coup to learn more.

CJ Verb (left) and Cousin Kris dressed in our First Communion finery.

That concludes our look at Elizabeth E. Copeland’s lovely silver work. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo by Nika Akin, courtesy of Pixabay.


Antiques & Fine Art Magazine: The Arts & Crafts Movement-The Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Art Institute of Chicago: Elizabeth E. Copeland

Atkins, JM, Kirkham, P., et al. (2000) Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity & Difference

Britannica: Ciborium

Brooklyn Museum: Silver Enameled Box (c1914) by Elizabeth E. Copeland

Chicago Silver: Society of Arts & Crafts Boston

Chicago Silver: Specimens of Craftsmanship (1906) by Claire M. Coburn, Good Housekeeping (1906) 

Detroit Institute of Arts: Ciborium (c1915) by Elizabeth E. Copeland

Digital Common Wealth: Massachusetts Collections Online

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Silver Enameled Box (c1920) by Elizabeth E. Copeland

Museum of Fine Arts Boston: Arts and Crafts Jewelry in Boston

Museum of Fine Arts Boston: Boston-Made Exhibit

Museum of Fine Arts Boston: Elizabeth Ethel Copeland

Museum of Fine Arts Boston: MFA Boston Organizes First Exhibition to Exclusively Explore Jewelry and Metalwork of Boston Arts and Crafts Movement (2018)

The Art Story: The Arts & Crafts Movement


Wikimedia Commons: Elizabeth E. Copeland

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