Ethan W. Lasser, Harvard Art Museums
The second illustrated lecture by Dr. Lasser highlights new research conducted in preparation for a forthcoming exhibition of historic and contemporary silver at the Harvard Art Museums. The show will consider the extraordinary and highly skilled techniques that various silversmiths—ranging from 17th century New England goldsmiths like John Coney who made silver for then young Harvard College, to 18th century artisan-entrepreneurs like Paul Revere who tapped a growing middle-class market, to 19th century designers like Louis Comfort Tiffany who folded silver into a much larger repertoire—developed to transform coarse silver ores into staggeringly beautiful works of art.
Dr. Lasser’s talk, like the exhibition upon which it is based, will emphasize silver’s versatility and the extraordinary tools and technologies that makers from across North and South America developed to take advantage of the metal’s material properties. Silver is a particularly rich material to consider in these “makerly” terms inasmuch as its production always involved a wondrous, fiery transition from molten to solid. Video, imagery and sound of this spectacle, and of contemporary silversmiths, weavers and other related artists at work, will animate the talk and exhibition and convey information about the processes behind the historic objects on view. The exhibition will argue that this skill and material knowledge figures into the preciousness afforded to silver objects as powerfully as the metal’s singular material attributes, such as its reflectivity, shininess and hardness. Our November speaker, Ethan W. Lasser heads the Division of European and American Art, and is the Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Curator of American Art at Harvard Art Museum. Dr. Lasser earned his bachelor’s degree at Williams College and his master’s degree and Ph.D. at Yale University. Currently, Dr. Lasser is responsible for the collection of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from 1660 to 1920. In addition, he leads the European and American curatorial team, which cares for works of art from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. A specialist in early America, Dr. Lasser is committed to interpreting American art in an international context, asking new questions about artisanal knowledge and practice, and investigating the history of collecting and museums.
Dr. Lasser is the author of numerous publications in decorative arts periodicals and professional journals and is the recipient of many awards, including being the winner of the prestigious Patricia and Phillip Frost Essay Award for excellence in the field of American art history. Most recently Dr. Lasser produced The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Art Museums, 2017.