At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts Movement began influencing taste and design in the daily lives of people in America. Syracuse, New York, became an important manufacturing center for this period in American decorative arts. Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Workshops, Leopold Stickley’s L.&J.G. Stickley Company, and Adelaide Robineau’s Pottery all hailed from this area, and much is known about their contributions. However, there are two firms about which much less is known and about which much more deserves to be written: Onondaga Metal Shops and Benedict Art Studios. This article will discuss the background and the aesthetic qualities of Onondaga Metal Shops and Benedict Manufacturing Co. as well as their relationship. It will also compare the firms and consider how these companies interacted with the Arts and Crafts Movement in Syracuse.The Business of Art Metal in Syracuse Onondaga Metal Shops (OMS) was located in downtown Syracuse at 581 South Clinton Street. The principal occupant of this building was Syracuse Ornamental Iron Works. OMS was in a small section of the building and was possibly a tenant of the Iron Works. The only Syracuse Business Directory listing found for Onondaga Metal Shops is for 1906 under “Metal Goods Manufacturing.” In this small shop, OMS produced hand-wrought copper and iron decorative accessories in the Arts and Crafts style. Candlesticks, smoke sets, wall plaques, chaffing-dish stands and many other forms were made to enhance the lifestyle of the turn-of- the-century family. A few miles away in the bordering community of East Syracuse, another art- metal company, the M.S. Benedict Manufacturing Company, had been producing wares for nearly a decade. Established in 1894, Benedict manufactured cast, stamped and embossed metal novelties, hollow- ware, cast metal clock cases, desk sets and more. Stylistically these products leaned towards the late-Victorian and Art Nouveau aesthetic. Benedict’s products were primarily manufactured in silver- and gold-plate for the jeweler’s trade. The production of these forms continued well into the mid-2Oth century. Despite the broad interest in Arts and Crafts, by 1905 Benedict had not yet produced decorative metal in that style. In 1902 the founder of the M.S. Benedict Manufacturing Company, Mainor Stuart Benedict, died. A December 17, 1902, Syracuse Post Standard report of Mr. Benedict’s funeral indicated it was attended by many friends and business associates from across the country, including places as faraway as Chicago, St. Louis and Toronto. After the death of M. S. Benedict, his son, Harry L. Benedict, became principal owner of the company. In an April, 1906 article, the Post Standard reported that the Benedict Company had a reorganization meeting at the Yates Hotel in Syracuse. By this time Harry Benedict was certainly aware of the Arts and Crafts style, as it had become prominent in the Syracuse area. The Yates’ bar and restaurant, for instance, had furniture and lighting by The Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley. In 1907 Benedict purchased Onondaga Metal Shops. OMS was moved from their South Clinton Street location to the Benedict Manufacturing Company’s plant in East Syracuse and Onondaga Metal Shops’ name was changed to Benedict Art Studios. According to the Fireside, a monthly Syracuse business newsletter dated April 1942, “…OMS was operated independently of the main factory and under the name of the Benedict Art Studio.. .producing fine hand wrought articles in copper, brass and iron, which possessed unusual artistic qualities.” OMS had become a part of Harry Benedict’s expansion program. Arts and Crafts metal was for the first time being produced by the Benedict Manufacturing Company, continuing the designs of Onondaga Metal Shops.
Onondaga Metal Shops preferred using copper and iron, and rarely if ever used brass. Benedict Art Studios, however, often mixed brass and copper on individual pieces; brass is almost always seen as the secondary metal. Boxes were produced from copper, with brass corners riveted into place and continuing down to form the feet. Heavy brass handles on trays and lids or delicate brass handles on copper candlesticks are often seen on Benedict objects. Copper or brass handles were used by Benedict Art Studios, occasionally cast, then hand-shaped or completely hand-wrought. Iron, normally wrought into handles for lamp bases and trophy-type pieces, is seen on forms with the OMS mark. Objects with the OMS mark seem closer in execution to Gustav Stickleys than work marked by Benedict Studios. Examining the planishing of the three companies, we can see that the work of Stickley and OMS has a more subtle, less intentional production method than the deliberate deep hammering marks of Benedict. OMS and Stickley seem to let the forming of the piece dictate the hammering marks, with few hammering marks put in intentionally to decorate the piece beyond the marks needed to actually produce the object. On Benedict pieces the hammered surface appears to be decorated with the marks from the hammer rather than formed by the hammer. For example, a Gustav Stickley nut bowl shows hammer marks that are lined up, traveling around the piece and all interlocking, giving the effect that the bowl was formed by the hammer. Looking at a Benedict piece, the marks are less regular, with occasional spaces between the hammering as if the piece were produced first and then hammered to decorate. In each instance, though, the bowl was spun to begin with. Both Onondaga Metal Shops and Benedict Art Studios chose to join separate pieces of metal with rivets. Whenever a tall cylindrical form was used, a band of rivets can be found. The use of rivets occurs on forms that are not spun (i.e., umbrella stands and humidors). The rivets used on OMS pieces are usually hand-formed while the rivets on Benedict pieces are much more uniform. The patinas of all three manufacturers were chemically induced to achieve the warm brown effect of aged metal. The patinas of OMS and Benedict differ in that the earlier OMS pieces have a more monochromatic, medium-brown color, which makes one think it was achieved over many years. Later-period Benedict Art Studios pieces most likely started with a darker, black-brown patina which was rubbed to show highlights of medium brown similar to patinas found on Gustav Stickley’s work.
Collection of Miles Schmidt