Artists & Designers

Robert J. King (b. 1917)

Robert King graduated in 1941 from the University of Wisconsin where he was a student of John Van Koert's. From 1939 to 1941, he worked in Van Koert's commercial studio, making jewelry and small novelties using the lost-wax process. During World War II, King served in the Army Air Forces from 1943-1946. Soon after he was discharged in 1946, he entered the School for American Craftsmen in Alfred, New York, studying enameling and metalwork. Among the faculty there were Mitzi Otten, Lauritz Christian Eichner, and John Prip. In 1949, King joined the design department of Towle Silversmiths, initially under Van Koert. A consummate craftsman, King himself made the models for Contour flatware (1950) and afterward for the holloware. Following a suggestion made to Van Koert by a museum curator, King's pistol grip knife became the prototype for the flatware.

Independent of Towle, King worked in silver and enamel and, during the 1950s, received awards for pieces included in such exhibitions as Designer-Craftsmen U.S.A. 1953, the Wichita Decorative Arts Annual in 1954, Fiber, Clay, Metal, in 1957, and those sponsored by the Sterling Silversmiths Guild of America in 1957 and 1958, all arising from competitions. His handmade work was exhibited in the American Pavilion at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958. After thirteen years with the company, King left Towle in 1962 to become a staff designer at International Silver.

For International's Moon Room exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair, King designed the unique Celestial Centerpiece (2005.24.1.A-B), candelabra, and candlesticks, and his earier carafe was also displayed. King's work appeared in the pretigious traveling exhibitions, Objects USA in 1970 and Forms in Metal, 275 Years of Metalsmithing in America in 1975. He retired from International in 1977. In 1983 his Contour flatware appeared in the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition Design Since 1945, and his work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Museum of Arts & Design (formerly the American Craft Museum) in New York, the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art, and the Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester.

Excerpted from

Stern, Jewel. Charles Veneble and Kevin Tucker, ed. Modernism in American Silver: 20th Century Design. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2005.) 336.