From Father to Son, and Back Again
If you have read much of what I have written about the Arts and Crafts movement, you may know that one of my special interests is the hand-hammered silver of William Waldo Dodge, who worked in Asheville from 1924 until the advent of World War II.
What began in 1986 as a casual interest of mine in Dodge silver eventually led to a 2005 Asheville Art Museum exhibition and catalog of William Waldo Dodge’s silver, his plein air oil paintings, and his architectural achievements.
None of this would have been possible without the foresight and the perseverance of his son, Bill Dodge III, who passed away last week at the age of 86.
When William Waldo Dodge closed his shop in 1942, it was Bill who helped box up and place into storage all of the Dodge Silver Shop tools, records, correspondence, showroom pieces, oil paintings, and partially completed pieces. William Waldo Dodge never reopened his Silver Shop, even after the war, concentrating instead on his original career as an architect trained at M.I.T. in Boston.
Bill Dodge followed in his father’s footsteps, rising to become a leading architect in Raleigh from 1962 until 1992. But during his entire career, he carefully protected and preserved the records and tools from his father’s silver shop, waiting for the day when William Waldo Dodge would be recognized for his contributions to the Arts and Crafts movement.
Soon after I moved to Asheville in 1989, I began making trips up to Bill’s retirement home in Blowing Rock, ninety miles away. We would sit either at his dining room table or out on his picnic table, thumbing through shop records or reverently turning over one of the tools or pieces of silver in Bill’s collection, all the while with my tape recorder going or my pen scribbling furiously making page after page of notes.
Some days Bill would hop in his sporty Mazada Miata and come zipping down the mountain into Asheville, stopping by my home unannounced to go to lunch or just to sit and talk about his father and the Dodge Silver Shop. His father had cast a large shadow and sometimes it was difficult for Bill to feel that his own accomplishments had matched his father’s expectations. I know that every son lives his life hoping to live up to his father’s expectations, but it must be doubly difficult when you choose to follow your father’s profession. And while anyone reading Bill’s list of achievements would wonder why he would ever have any doubt as to his own accomplishments, Bill always seem to question whether or not he had.
I wish that I could sit here and write that I had spent as much time as I could have with Bill after the art museum exhibition had closed, but I didn’t. We stayed in touch, as Bill still loved stopping by my office and coming up to the Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference each February, and was proud to see examples of his father’s sterling silver bowls, platters, and presentation pieces in some of the dealers’ booths.
But what Bill loved to do the most at the Arts and Crafts Conference was to jump, sometimes unexpectedly, onto the Preservation Society house tour bus and to provide the surprised riders with an unscripted commentary on Asheville’s architecture and history as they rode from destination to destination. His outspoken opinions and insight into Asheville and its architecture never failed to entertain and educate the attendees on board the bus with him, and always brought them back to the hotel looking both amazed and a little dazed.
I’ll miss Bill, and will always have to wonder if I gleamed every bit of important information from him that I could have.
And when I pick up a piece of his father’s silver, it will be two William Dodges that I will think of — and appreciate knowing.
Until next week,
Lets think about what we can save.
Photo: Bill Dodge with exhibit curator Lynne Poirier Wilson (photo by Frank Thompson, Asheville Art Museum).
For Bill Dodge’s obituary, click here: