Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Robert Jarvie, Silversmith

A friend of mine recently saw two Onwentsia golf trophies for sale and then I saw two candlesticks made by the same person for sale. We don’t know much about the trophies but the candlesticks came from Oak Park, Illinois, and they sold for $60,000. All three items were made by Robert Jarvie.

Robert Riddle Jarvie was born in Schenectady, New York, on October 24, 1865. His parents, Robert Jarvie and Jane Riddle, were both born in Alva, Scotland. In the 1870 census they were living in Rockford, Illinois.  In the 1880 census the family lived in Minneapolis. The father was 44, the mother was 38 and Robert R. was 15. The father worked in a woolen mill and was perhaps a weaver.

Robert Jarvie came to Chicago in the late 1890s and worked as a clerk in the Department of Transportation. In his spare time, he began to experiment with various metals. “Apparently self-taught he may have also studied at AIC.” (Art Institute of Chicago?)

He married Lillian Gray from Rockford but I couldn’t find a date. Also, one writer says there is no picture of Robert Jarvie or his wife anywhere. She is described in one article as a writer and book seller. There were no children. With the help of his wife, they opened a store in the Fine Arts Building where they sold “candlesticks, lanterns, copper bowls, bookends, sconces, vases, trays, smoking accessories, and desk sets.”

In 1910, Jarvie was commissioned by Charles Hutchinson to produce a silver punch bowl for the Cliff Dwellers Club of Chicago. Both Hutchinson and Jarvie were charter members. This is the only work by Jarvie that I have seen thanks to an invitation from Nike Whitcombe and Brice McDonald to attend one of their events. It is a beautiful bowl and a prized possession.

After 1912, Jarvie’s shop was located on the upper floor of the Old English Cottage at 842 Exchange Avenue in the Union Stock Yards. Here, he designed trophies for the International Live Stock Exhibition. “He won acclaim for his tea sets, candles, and bowls patterned after those of Paul Revere,” He also added furniture making and wool rugs but these were not successful. “These new enterprises failed to sustain him through America’s involvement in World War I and by 1920 he was forced to close his shop. Thereafter he lapsed into obscurity until a recent revival of interest in his work brought him recognition as one of America’s outstanding modern silversmiths.” In 1915, Lillian took a job as secretary at the National Kindergarten College which apparently evolved into National Louis University.

You can see examples of his work in the Hirsch & Adler gallery in New York City, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. No examples of his furniture making have been found. Very little is know about him after his retirement years but he did work in the silver department at Peacock’s for a short time before they entered The Scottish Old People’s Home. At the time, they lived at 2020 Sherman Avenue in Evanston, Illinois.

They entered the Scottish Home, May 1, 1941.  They had no savings but Mrs. Jarvie had a $7,500 life insurance policy and was drawing a $50 a month pension from Northwestern University. She had worked until 1940 as the secretary to William A. Dyche, business manager of Northwestern University. They also rented 2 rooms in their home. They had been recommended for admission by Mrs. Lister of Evanston, George Elmslie (the architect), and John Jeffrey of 810 Greenleaf Avenue, Glenview, Illinois. She died October 6, 1941 at the age of 70 from cardiac arrest.

The application for Robert Jarvie shows that he had no personal property, no real estate, no pension or benefits, and no life insurance. He was a Baptist and in case of serious illness the Home was to notify Mrs. Raymond Sheets in Rockford, Illinois. It would be interesting to know where they lived in the Scottish Home but those records may be gone. One month after his wife died, Mr. Jarvie was visiting someone in Chicago when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 76 years old.

They are both buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Rockford, Illinois.

Wayne Rethford, Past President
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:

February 7, 2015 - Professor Euan Hague of DePaul University. "From Christmas Day 1950 to September 2014 - A history of modern Scottish Nationalism.”  The September 2014 Scottish referendum was a remarkable event. Around 85% of the electorate voted, and a majority decided that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom. The bigger story, however, was that of the Scottish nationalists who gained 45% of the vote for independence and separation from the United Kingdom. This promises to be a very informative meeting for our members. 

March 7, 2015 - “Hats, including our Bess Ben hats.” The speaker is Mary Robak who wants every woman to wear a hat. She and Elizabeth Fanuzzi have been studying the six Bess Ben hats in our museum. You will find their presentation very interesting and entertaining.

April 4, 2015 - The Town of Pullman. 

The Scottish-American Museum opens at 9 a.m. on the day of our event and the program begins at 10. There is no charge. Reservations not necessary but helpful. Call 708-408-5591. The Scottish Home is located at 28th and Des Plaines, North Riverside, Illinois.

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