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Elias Pelletreau, Long Island Silversmith, & His Sources of Design

DATES January 27, 1959 through March 15, 1959
  • January 27, 1959 A large and comprehensive exhibition of the work of Elias Pelletreau (1726-1810), Long Island’s most important silversmith, will be on view in the Brooklyn Museum’s Special Exhibitions Galleries from January 27 through March 15. More than 80 of this master’s characteristically simple, well-made pieces have been borrowed from 53 museums and private collectors, as well as an additional 83 related objects which offer a review of the period and background of Pelletreau. The exhibition has been organized by Mr. Marvin D. Schwartz, the Museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts, who has also prepared a well-illustrated catalog to accompany the show.

    The purpose of this exhibition is to show the work of Elias Pelletreau in relation to major trends in 18th-century design. As a preface to the show, silversmithing technique is explained with the aid of a group of bowls by a contemporary silversmith, William De Hart, and a drawing of a silversmith’s shop done for Diderot’s Encyclopedia In 1763.

    The various phases of 18th- and early 19th-century style, from Baroque to Rococo and then on to the neo-classical, are presented briefly in furniture and textiles as well as silver to review the tendencies of the period In which Pelletreau lived. English and French examples are emphasized because these were the two predominant influences not only on the American scene but all over Europe as well. The work of other New York silversmiths is included to show what else came out of Pelletreau’s milieu. Pelletreau’s own work is represented in many forms, such as porringers, tankards, canns, teapots and even a child’s rattle.

    Elias Pelletreau was the son of a Huguenot merchant who settled in New York towards the end of the 17th century and later moved to Southampton to further his interests in the whalebone business. Both his parents died in his childhood, but his stepmother and her second husband provided for the boy’s schooling and, at the age of 15, he was apprenticed in the New York shop of a prominent silversmith, Simeon Soumaine. After his indenture period of some 7 years, Elias opened a shop in New York and took a wife. In 1750, when their first child was born, they moved back to Southampton and set up shop there.

    His account books reveal that Elias Pelletreau had a widespread clientele in Long Island and New York City. He was a man with ready capital who advanced cash to neighbors, including a loan to William Floyd to enable him to attend the first Congress in Philadelphia where he signed the Declaration of Independence.

    In his later years, Pelletreau worked with his son, John, who continued the trade, as did William Smith Pelletreau, John’s son. Elias Pelletreau was a distinguished citizen of Long Island and a truly skilled craftsman.

    The catalog to the exhibition contains 29 plates, an article on the techniques and practices of l8th-century silversmiths by Arthur J. Pulos, Professor of Industrial Design at Syracuse University, and articles by Mr. Schwartz on the life of Pelletreau and on his sources of design.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1953 - 1970. 1959, 006-7.
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