This summer, scenes of the American Revolution took over New-York Historical Society. Throughout our exhibition Revolutionary Summer, families had the opportunity to interact with Continental Army soldiers and explore George Washington’s Headquarters Tent in our outdoor courtyard–turned–encampment. For the final weekend of Revolutionary Summer (Sept. 14 & 15), we’ve got something special planned that also offers a sneak peek into our new fall exhibition about the Revolutionary era, Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere. This Saturday and Sunday, visitors meet a working silversmith named Steve Smithers. A Living Historian and history interpreter, Smithers has spent years perfecting his craft and is excited to share both his skills and the history and importance of metalsmithing in 18th-century America. While you’re visiting, take one last turn through Washington’s Headquarters Tent and then visit Beyond Midnight, an exploration of the life and times of patriot legend and fabled silversmith Paul Revere, on view in our first-floor gallery through Jan. 12.
We spoke to Smithers ahead of his appearance at New-York Historical this weekend. Read on to see what he has to say about historical trades, working with metal, and making history come alive.
How did you become a silversmith?
I started working in modern machining and metal work during college, making tools and such. As the years progressed, I worked in many manufacturing plants on machines. Later, I started a job where I repaired and polished metals. This was my introduction to working with silver, copper, pewter, and brass. I found it interesting, so I started researching in books after work. Eventually, I started working these metals on my own, and people started coming to me to make and repair things. I mainly learned by doing. By simply handling the metals and tools, I learned a lot.
What does “Living History” mean to you?
Living History to me is giving people an idea of what it was like a long time ago. The stories are everywhere: in the buildings, the trees, the rivers…if they could talk, what a story they could tell! When you look back through time, you can see how people solved problems. It all happened where we stand.
Do you have any tips for young “history detectives” interested in historical trades?
Observe artisans working in a historical manner as much as possible. That gives you a sense of how things were done. This means visiting museums and historical villages. Research and read books on the subject. Next, you try your hand at it at places like the summer camp here at the New-York Historical Society. Remember that it’s okay to be yourself. Take your time, and stay positive. Remember, these are things that have been done thousands of times before, so be confident that you, too, can acquire these skills. Take a look at the collections in museums, and there are thousands of examples of handmade goods made by artisans. If they can do it, so can you!!
What can families look forward to this weekend?
I will be demonstrating a variety of the tools and techniques used by Paul Revere as an 18th-century metalsmith. Families will have the option to help me hammer out a button or small bowl.
Go here to learn more about our programming on the final weekend of Revolutionary Summer.
Written by Cheyney McKnight, Living History Coordinator