The walls of the Wiregrass Museum of Art’s main gallery have some unusual pieces currently on display – forks, spoons and knives.
These aren’t your typical dining tools, however. Some date back to the early 1900s. Some are as artistic as any sculpture. Some are actually intended to be sculptures. Others simply provide a cool mix of art and functionality.
“Fabulous Flatware: Non-Traditional Tools of the Table” will be on display at the Wiregrass Museum of Art in downtown Dothan through March 31. The exhibit was put together by the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, where it was on display in 2011. The exhibit appeared at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts last year. After Dothan, it moves to a museum in Mobile.
“To me this stuff is exciting, it’s not boring,” said Dr. William Hood, the flatware collector and Dothan resident whose pieces are featured in the exhibit. “The average flatware that people use at home or in restaurants is boring … just boring, boring, boring. And it doesn’t have to be boring. Most people don’t know this stuff exists.”
It’s the third time Hood’s collection has been on display at the Dothan museum. The first was all 19th century flatware produced by Tiffany. The second exhibit involved 19th century flatware made by Tiffany and other designers of the time period.
This current exhibit focuses on modern and non-traditional utensils and features 750 pieces that date from 1885 to 2011.
“A few years ago, my interests changed to the contemporary stuff, and now the more far out it is the better I like it,” said Hood, who has been collecting flatware for 25 years.
There are pieces designed in 1903 that look like they could have been created today. Materials shifted from silver to stainless steel over the years and fashion and jewelry designers and architects got into flatware design. There are even pieces designed by a mechanic to look like pliers and wrenches.
The oldest pieces on display are simply to show the evolution from the traditional 19th century flatware to the 20th century designs as styles moved into art nouveau, art deco, modernism and post-modernism.
“The whole point of the exhibition is to show that there’s been a tremendous evolution of flatware in that period of time in terms of decorative style, size and form, who designed it, where it was made, how it was made and the materials from which it was made,” Hood said. “All of that has changed dramatically. This tries to show all of that one way or another.”
One set of flatware on display was actually designed to encourage the diner to play with their utensils. Called “Pirouette,” the set came out in 2011, and each piece is weighted so the handles float above the table, enticing a diner to push down on the handles to make the pieces move.
Another set called “Boneware,” released in 1995, was inspired by bones. There’s a set created by a French designer called “Esotismo” with knives modeled after crocodiles, forks after birds and spoons after fish. An American silversmith designed a flatware series in the 1980s called “Echo” with utensils that curve toward the round edge of a plate.
“It used to be flatware was decorated in whatever the prevailing style was at that time – art nouveau, art deco, Scandinavian modern,” Hood said. “Nowadays, anything goes, there’s no prevailing style … that’s one of the things that’s fascinated me about this stuff is you think there’s just no other way you could design a knife, fork or spoon, yet every year they keep coming out with new knives and new forks and new spoons.”