Dallas Museum of Art

Image of David Clarke in Dallas Museum of Art looking at silverware donated to the 'Family Matter' project.

In 2019, Sarah Schleuning, curator from the Dallas Museum of Art, invited me to a breakfast meeting to discuss an exciting opportunity to work with the museum. Over my delicious ‘full English’ breakfast, I first learnt about the museum’s special annual fund-raising event, the Silver Supper.

The donations raised from this event pass directly to the Decorative Arts Acquisition Fund which enables the museum to purchase new objects for its collection. Sarah wanted to explore how the museum could reinvigorate the event, following a short hiatus and the idea of commissioning new work inspired by the museum’s historical silver collection was born.

‘Family Matter’ would be the result, comprising of 75 silver pieces generously given by 36 families from the Dallas community.

About the Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is one of the largest art museums in America, located in the Arts District of downtown Dallas, Texas. It is home to more than 24,000 works of art from all cultures and time periods spanning 5,000 years of human creativity, including significant examples of historical European and American silver.

Image of the outide of Dallas Museum Of Art USA

DMA, is also known for its innovative approach to engaging contemporary artists to activate and reinterpret its collection.

Visit the DMA website

Family Matter

To be invited to work with a large arts institution is both exciting and challenging in equal measure. But how would I get a deep understanding of the organisation, its collection and communities when I’m based in London? How to move beyond the obvious and historical to make something genuinely reflective of today’s Dallas and connect with its local people?

I decided that the new piece would be entirely determined by objects donated by Silver Supper patrons and the wider community and pitched this idea at a series of events hosted at the museum and in private homes.

Thankfully, ‘Family Matter’ really triggered people’s curiosity and enthusiasm to donate pieces of family silver that would be used as material within the finished centrepiece. Nothing would be rejected and an element from all the donations would be incorporated into ‘Family Matter’, enabling anyone who contributed to be recognised as a donor and patron of the museum.

Image detail showing a range of second hand donated polished silverware.

A snapshot of some of the 75 pieces of silverware donated to the project.

Image of the finished centrepiece, 'Family Matter' made by David Clarke for the Dallas Museum of Art. A large centrepiece including three candlesticks, a salt cellar and two 'sentinels', for protection.

Family Matter. Photo by Dallas Museum of Art
Material   Silver, Silver Plate, Pewter, Steel, Salt, Sugar and Paint
Dimension   200 x 50 x 150cm
Year   2020
Location   Dallas Museum of Art, USA

“Clarke created a unified vision of our extended communities reminding us that the past and present continue to be connected, often in new and unexpected ways”

Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Dallas Museum of Art

Detail image of a silver sugar sweetheart dish, presented on an arm that extends out from the main body of the centrepiece.
Detail image of a small salt cellar that has been altered and given a fancy lid, sitting on a platform fringed with cultery.
Detail image of the donated cutlery which has been bought together to create a fringed 'platform'.

Once all the donations had been gathered together, they were shipped to my workshop in London. Unpacking the two large wooden crates filled with everything from ice buckets, wedding gifts, and mother-in-law hand-me-downs; it was almost too much to comprehend.

However, spending time with the individual pieces and getting to know them enabled me to identify how these random items might come together to form something new and surprising.


Image of silver donations that have been baked with common table salt to create large salt cellar.
During my time spent meeting and talking to a diverse range of people in Dallas, I developed starting points, connections and themes to explore.

Conversations with the Conservation team discussing whether it’s OK or not to leave silver to tarnish inspired the blackened, spray-painted pieces, whilst Dallas’s flat landscape and few trees, informed the salt piece and the city’s wealth and prosperity brought in elements of opulence and the Baroque.

Detail image of two blackbirds facing head-first into a salt crust.
Detailed image of candlesticks made up of Tiffany earrings, a monkey bottle stopper and other pieces of silverware stacked up and soldered together to form tall towers.
Image of inverted silver vessels, spray-painted black.

It was essential that donors and their families could easily see their own donated pieces of silver within the final centrepiece – even if it’s a bit of a treasure hunt. This adds another layer to the overall story and creates a powerful connection between the DMA and future generations.

An image of curator Sarah, very happy seeing the new piece Family Matter being presented at DMA Silver Supper event 2020.

An extremely joyous curator.

To acknowledge the families that donated silver and to recognise their generosity and willingness to participate, a special gift was presented to each of them at the Silver Supper event.

The gift was made from pewter and each pot was designed to serve a tipple or snack or to display flowers.

Image of pewter pots with a vintage element added, holding snacks and flowers given to donors as a gift.

“I hope the way David has played with these pieces in really different ways, sparks people’s desire to bring out their own great pieces, to polish them, to think about them, and to use them in new and inventive ways”

Sarah Schleuning