Cradle of liberty, cradle of craft

Olaf Skoogfors
Olaf Skoogfors was born in Bredsjö, Sweden. In 1934 his family moved to Wilmington, Delaware, returning to Sweden three years later, only to come back to the United States at the outbreak of World War II, when they settled in Philadelphia. The family's original surname was Jansson; his father changed it to Skoogfors ("forest stream") when he became a United States citizen in 1945. As a youth Olaf Skoogfors studied drawing at the Graphic Sketch Club, and after he graduated from Olney High School in 1949 he trained as a silversmith and jeweler with Virginia Wireman Cute (1908-1985) and Richard Reinhardt (1921-1998) at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art. After a period of service in the U.S. Army between 1953 and 1955 Skoogfors entered the School for American Craftsmen in Rochester, New York, where he studied for two years under the recent Danish émigré Hans Christensen (1924-1983), who had worked at Georg Jensen Silversmithy in Copenhagen from 1939 until 1954. During his years in Rochester, Skoogfors was also influenced by Ronald Hayes Pearson, who taught part time at the school; John Prip; and Svetozar and Ruth Radakovich, who taught at the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester.

Olaf Skoogfors (1930-1975) in his Mt. Airy studio, early 1970's. Courtesy of Judy Skoogfors-Prip.

After graduating from the School for American Craftsmen, Skoogfors returned to Philadelphia and established his first shop in West Philadelphia in 1957, moving his studio to Mount Airy in 1962. Beginning in 1961 he taught part time at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (his renamed alma mater); he became chairman and associate professor of the craft department in 1969 and full professor in 1971. He was a founding member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) in 1969.

Candelabrum by Skoogfors, 1957. Silver; heigh 5 7/8, width 8 1/2 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Judy Skoogfors.

Skoogfors's hollowware from the later 1950s and early 1960s echoes the simple shapes and sleek surfaces of postwar Scandinavian silver, such as Christensen's work and particularly the designs of Henning Koppel (1918-1981) for Georg Jensen. The flowerlike form of his remarkable candelabrum shown here is characteristic of Skoogfors's love of curvilinear, organic shapes and unadorned surfaces that highlight silver's malleable and reflective qualities. In 1963 he developed an interest in lost wax casting, and his focus shifted to jewelry in the later 1960s. His interest in jewelry was further supported by his close friendship with Stanley Lechtzin (1936-), a professor of metalsmithing at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

Jewelry offered Skoogfors greater freedom to experiment with textures, colors, materials, and even narrative elements. He wrote in 1968, "I have strong feelings about the relationship of organic forms to rigid mechanical forms, the desire to combine them in a complimentary way to enrich each other... . My desire in jewelry is to say something and not just be decorative."13 Much of his jewelry was made in series. Between 1972 and 1974 he produced a number of men's belt buckles inspired by the Civil War "ironclad" warships, the Monitor and the Merrimack, evoking their details with rivets, ridges, and drilled holes within a rectangular frame-mechanical details appropriate for masculine accessories. DLB

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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