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.
Meanwhile, in the town of Eastwood between East Syracuse and Syracuse, the workshops of Gustav Stickley’s United Crafts were also in operation. There has been much conjecture regarding the relationship between Gustav Stickley and Onondaga Metal Shops. What was the nature of their relationship? Prior to Gustav Stickley announcing the opening of his metal shop in 1902, who produced hardware for the United Crafts? The Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Delaware, houses an extensive collection of both Gustav and Leopold Stickley business papers dating from 1889-1962, with the bulk of infor mation from 190 1-1939. Only one entry in this collection is relevant to the present study. Curiously, this July, 1903, entry in volume 15,
page 120, refers to the Benedict Manufacturing Company, East Syracuse, New York, and mentions copper trimming” and sets of “copper handles.” The amount was nominal, but how much could the hardware cost for a sideboard priced at $50.00? We know from other evidence Benedict was not producing Arts and Crafts metalware before purchasing OMS. Looking through Stickley’s retail catalog plates, prior to 1902, there is very little decorative metalwork displayed with his furniture. The objects shown are what appear to be pieces of Russian copper. Comparing the work of Onondaga Metal Shops and Benedict Art Studios with that of Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Workshops reveals many similarities in terms of form. For instance, the umbrella stand, spade plaque, jardinieres, and heart cut-out design lanterns were produced at all three shops. The qualiry of Gustav’s work was the most consistent, although each firm’s products shows variations in execution. Change in OMS designs and production methods was largely due to its move to the Benedict Manufacturing plant, which was more of a mass-production facility. The broader marketing of Benedict’s product required higher production levels. No doubt other variations are likely due both to the craftsman and the time the object was produced. Today people seem to want to believe that Onondaga Metal Shops had something to do with Onondaga Shops, a furniture company owned by Leopold Stickley, Gustav’s younger brother. Such speculation probably results from confusion about the name “Onondaga.” Sharing this name is not necessarily significant since both OMS and Leopold Stickley operated in Onondaga County. Later the L.&J.G. Stickley Company, renamed from Onondaga Shops, had their own line of metalwork with their own mark. Both Benedict and OMS marked their products. Onondaga Metal Shops mark was their initials superimposed upon each other. Typically, the OMS mark is found on the bottom of their pieces, although occasionally appears on an exposed surface. The Benedict Company had two marks. The earlier of the two was the name Benedict Studios” with a hammer and anvil, and the second, later mark was a diamond with a bee in the center flanked by the capital letter “B”. This mark is usually accompanied by a number, which suggests Benedict produced a catalog. To date no information has been found as to the quantiry of items produced or the number of different designs for either firm.
Aesthetic Dimensions of OMS and Benedict
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.
Finally, a number of table lamps have been attributed to Benedict Art Studios. The only lamps we can positively attribute to OMS or Benedict Art Studios are the ones that are signed or are pictured in their advertising. The lamp shown on the right of the ad on page 58 is the typical style found. This same type of lamp is also seen with an oak base. In each instance these lamps had slag glass panel shades. The many lamps we have seen attributed to Benedict with mica shades—frequently in the style of the California makers—are an unsubstantiated guess and it is unlikely that any of these were manufactured by Benedict or Onondaga Metal Shops. Despite our research, the information available on OMS and Benedict is still sketchy at best. There remain many questions unanswered about Benedict Art Studios and OMS. Who were the designers? How did each firm market their products? What relationship did OMS and Benedict have with other local Syracuse talent? Who owned Onondaga Metal Shops? Hopefully the information gathered and reported here sheds some light on these two important metalware producers and might serve as an impetus to continue the search for additional information on these companies that were so much a part of the American Arts & Crafts Movement.
I would like to thank Blume Rifken, a friend and collector, for her many hours of research and guidance making this article possible, and Bruce Austin, whose editing skills are unsurpassed. To further the research of these Syracuse Companies, I would like to start a catalog of pieces from the Onondaga Metal Shops and Benedict Art Studios. Please forward any information as well as photographs to: Dave Rudd, 1931 James Street, Syracuse New York, 13206, 315-463-1568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. David Rudd is the owner of Dalton s American Decorative Arts, in Syracuse, New York. He has been a collector and dealer of the American Arts and Crafts Movement for nearly 20 years.
Collection of Miles Schmidt