Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Fabergé Collection at Bowers Museum

In the heart of Orange County is the Bowers Museum. Thanks to the generous bequest from Charles and Ada Bowers to the city of Santa Ana, the museum was founded in 1936. It has grown to become one of Southern California's finest and largest museums, receiving many accolades through the years.
Charles Bowers was a land developer in Orange County in the late 1800s. He donated the land to the City of Santa Ana, with a Mission Revival-style building that was constructed in 1931, after the death of his wife Ada. 
 A walk through the landscaped Margaret and Cleo Key courtyard

In 1987, the City of Santa Ana closed the museum to reassess the direction it was taking. With the mission to continue in serving the community, by enriching lives through "the world's finest arts and cultures,"  it reopened with some transformations.  Now six times the original size, Bowers Museum opened 63,000 square-feet of museum space in October, 1992. The museum  added the kidseum as part of their children's programming, in 1994. Five years ago, another 30,000 plus square-feet of space - the Dorothy and Donald Kennedy Wing, was added and inaugurated in February, 2007. 

With the vast space they have, the Bowers Museum offers exhibitions, lectures and art classes, and a variety of programs that include travel, children's art education, and other special events and programs for the community.
Free Admission during the First Sunday of Each Month and Every Tuesday*

Target sponsors the all-day free access to the museum, kidseum and other scheduled activities every first Sunday. With a limited capacity of 1,500 visitors, 250 tickets are given each hour on a first-come, first served basis. Guests need to be present during ticket distribution; no reservations are accepted.

During every first Sunday of each month, TARGET and the Nicholas Endowment sponsor a Family Festival. 

*Every Tuesday, Santa Ana residents - with proof of residency, are entitled to free admission, courtesy of the Lockhart Family and through the generous donation made in memory of Dorothy Goerl.
 The Bowers Museum 

Here's a good reason to visit this cultural center - to see the exhibition of the Fabergé collection, which will run until January 6, 2013. Fabergé was an "imperial jeweler."  Through the McFerrin Collection, we are given a glimpse of what Carl Fabergé had fashioned from his atelier, for the royal families of Tsar Alexander II and his son, Tsar Nicholas II, and the royal court.

Arthur "Artie" McFerrin, Jr., earned his undergraduate and master's  degrees in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University in the mid to late 60s. After a stint with Shell Chemical as a plant manager, he put up his own business - a chemical processing and manufacturing company, for a start. His business ventures have been very successful, and he has become a philanthropist in education and in community affairs. He and his wife, Dorothy, have also become collectors of exquisite objects. With their collection - deemed as "one of the world's most important private collections of Fabergé,"  we the public are enabled to see such beautiful works of a master jeweler as Carl Fabergé, through their generous patronage.

 Here's a mini tour of the Fabergé Exhibition, with a few of the onjects on display.
The McFerrin Fabergé Collection

The exquisite objects in this exhibition, produced by the Fabergé workshop at its peak, include personal gifts to the royal family; an extravagant tiara with an interesting history; a magnificent "fire-screen" picture frame, and the famed Nobel Ice Egg. Also in this collection  are elegant pieces of jewelry, clocks, picture frames, boxes and eggs, all  exemplifying the workmanship and masterful use of materials in each design. 

The Fabergé Easter eggs have become world-renowned. This particular piece is by workmaster Michael Perchin, St. Petersburg, c. 1901. This egg has been designed to open as two halves, with two bases on each side to stand on.

Easter was the most celebrated occasion in the Russian Orthodox church. In the tradition of gift-giving, the Easter egg - which symbolized new life - were designed to celebrate the end of the harsh winter and to welcome spring. With the success enjoyed by the "imperial Easter eggs," Faberge went on to create many, many more pieces using the egg theme. They were popular gifts to give, as they concealed surprises. Thus the egg motif was used in the making of candy boxes, as well.

In some Easter egg creations, there were surprise items like a charm inside the egg.

The Nobel Ice Egg

With a very select and distinct clientele, Fabergé also counted Swedish industrialist Dr. Emanuel Nobel (the nephew of dynamite inventor, Alfred Nobel), founder of Nobel Prize, as a client. He was an oil magnate at the turn of the 20th century, who dominated the petroleum industry. When he had sent in an order for party gifts, the designing task went to Alma Phil. Alma was the niece of workmaster Albert Hölmstrom.

It was winter, then. Alma was inspired by the winter frost when she looked out the window. She went ahead to design jewelry pieces with diamonds lined up as frost patterns. This was a big hit and a subsequent order came for the Nobel ice egg, in 1913.


Carl Fabergé  not only designed jewelry, but turned functional objects into works of art. The box, with different purposes - for candies, cigars, snuff, make up - took on an exquisite finish with the workmaster's craftsmanship, by goldsmith Michael Perchin, with the use of materials like gold, enamel, precious and semi-precious stones.
Snuff Box
This one is considered to be his finest design, with the insignia of Tsar Nicholas II on the cover.
Visiting dignitaries were lavished with gifts by the Russian imperial court. Fabergé made a good number of "presentation boxes."  A French statesman and Nobel Prize winner in 1902, Léon Bougeois, was the lucky recipient of this elegant box. In all, ninety boxes with this design were made. 

Enamel Snuff Box
By Michael Perchin, St. Petersburg, c. 1890
This snuff box is bejeweled with a diamond border on gold, with a neoclassic theme: Venus and Cupid.  

Shell Bonbonniere
 by Fabergé workmaster Michael Perchin, St. Petersburg, c. 1900

Mr. Perchin used a smoky quartz, carved and polished in the form of a shell, and ornamented with gold and diamonds.

Imperial Presentation Cigarette Cases

Made of gold and embellished with semi-precious stones and diamonds in design elements like that initials on the box, below, and on the thumb presses. Cigarette smoking was catching up in Europe and became popular among the nobility.

 Cigarette Lighters
By August Hölstrom, St. Petersburg, c. 1890

To the left is a rose-gold cigarette case, with an engraved design of leaf and flower swags, and an "old-mine-diamond-cut diamond" on the thumbpress.

Russian Crown Jewels

On a facet of amethyst is a double-headed eagle in gold, mounted with a crown, on a chain.

Pair of Floral "Trimming" Pins
By Louis David Duval, c. 1760
This pair of "trimming" pins, made of diamond and silver in floral pattern formerly belonged to Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia from 1762-1796.

It was mentioned during our guided tout that this multi-colored Sapphire Necklace was one of Mrs. McFerrin's favorite pieces in this collection and she wore it often.

The Tiara, by design master August Hölmstrom, St. Petersburg, c. 1895

This design uses graduated diamond arches, with a center, pear-shaped diamond piece measuring 8.3 carats, mounted in silver and gold. Some of the diamonds were given as a gift to Josephine, by Alexander I, after she was divorced by Napoleon Bonaparte. The diamonds were passed on to Josephine's heirs, one of whom married the daughter of Tsar Nicholas I. It is through this connection that the diamonds found their way to the Fabergé workshop, and used to fashion this tiara.

Fire Screen Picture Frame
 From the House of Fabergé, by Henrik Wigstorm, St. Petersburg, c. 1910

As a sentimental gift, the members of the Romanov family, displayed and exchanged pictures with one another, in frames designed in the neoclassical Louis XVI or empire styles, with the use of semi precious metals and stones, and local wood.
This particular picture frame made of gold has two sides, with a different picture on each side, that of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. Most likely, this was given as a gift to the tsar's mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The design of this frame was inspired by a firescreen in her apartment, that was made by a French cabinetmaker - George Jacob, in the 18th century.

Carl Fabergé's influence went as far as to Germany, in Ida-Oberstein - known for their carving. Carl had studied here. He sent some of his people there to learn more technic. 
With the exchange of artistic ideas and designs, the end results are reflected in these objects, which are small figures and bowls, with the same superior quality exacted by Fabergé in his shop.

A Bejeweled Fan
This is a handpainted fan by Jules Donzel fils, a French painter, depicting the "Fountain of Youth and Venus Triumphant," c. 1890. August Hölmstrom crafted the fan guards and ends.

An admiral and general of the Russian army, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich - an uncle of Tsar Nicholas II, had gifted this fan to an actress of the Imperial Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

Desk Barometer
By Karl Hjalmar Atatürk, St Petersburg, 1896-1908, in silver, with beveled glass and a garnet finial

Bell Push
By silversmith Johan Victor Aarne, St. Petersburg, c. 1897, made of bowenite, gilded silver, enamel, with gem ornamentation

A Triple, Electric  Bell Push

Imperial Presentation Cigarette Cases
Made of gold and embellished with semi-precious stones and diamonds in design elements like that initials on the box, below, and on the thumb presses.

Cigarette smoking was catching up in Europe and became popular among the nobility.

 Cigarette Lighters
By August Hölstrom, St. Petersburg, c. 1890

To the left is a rose-gold cigarette case, with an engraved design of leaf and flower swags, and an "old-mine-diamond-cut diamond" on the thumbpress.

This is said to have been among the first furnishings in the marital home of Nicolas II and his wife, Princess Alix of Hesse, Denmark, who became Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. Their loving devotion to one another ended with the brutal execution of the whole family in 1918.

Miniature Cartel Clock

This agate clock is engraved with the monogram and crown of Tsar Nicolas II's daughter, the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna who was married to the Duke of Edinburgh - Grand Duke Alfred, and became the mother of Queen Marie of Romania.

Wooden Picture Frame made from karelian birch, with silver and guilloché enamel

The Dowager Tsarina Maria Feodorovna purchased them from Fabergé in 1899. A signed photograph of picture of the Grand Duchess Anastacia is framed, to the right.

Presentation Box
by Fabergé workmaster Henrik Wigström, St. Petersberg, c. 1900

The picture of Tsar Alexander II is used to decorate this box by portrait miniaturist, Alois Gustave Rochstuhl. This box was part of a collection that once belonged to the wife of King George V, Queen Mary of Edinburgh (1910-1936).

A Three-Compartment Vanity Case 
by workmaster Henrik Wigström, St. Petersberg, c. 1910

Carnet de Bal
by Henrik Wigström, St.  Petersburg, c. 1908
A dance card case made of leather, with a gold-mounted enamel and 12 rose-cut diamnds, and a gold mechanical pencil.

Cane Handle
by Fabergé workmaster Michael Perchin, St. Petersburg, c. 1900

Lily-of-the-Valley Study
by Fabergé, St. Petersburg, c. 1900
This flower was used to signify the arrival of spring.


As a backdrop to the works of art, enlarged pictures of the atelier and the Russian nobility hung on the walls, transporting the viewer to another time and place. Posters and banners also gave detailed descriptions, just in case anyone would not be able to join the tour conducted by the museum for free.

Even good things come to an end. In 1915, the Fabergé shops suspended their operations and turned to the production of weapons of war.

What a privilege it was to view this exhibition of a man and his craftsmanship, whose name had become synonymous to things of beauty, all designed and made exquisitely.

Next to this exposition was another group of artisans who made jewelry and other objects of adornment. Here is a sampling of what the Miao people created in the 20th century. They came from Northern Yunan Province which is Southeast and West Guizhou, China, and also from Thailand, Myanmar or Laos. Their materials were, primarily, silver, wood, and jade.

Beautiful designs, such as these, are made by the women who started training since they were six years old. As they grew and matured, their output gave them identity, or another way of saying it is their identity developed as they expressed themselves in their work.
There is much of Chinese history to be learned, as well as the immigrants who became part of the local population,  as one walks around this space. The varying designs were indicative of where they came from, from the difficult locations the Miao women lived. Those who lived in the southwest provinces and beyond the Chinese border called themselves Hmong.

Our time was limited to see and learn about this culture. Going back to this museum will be scheduled again, and again.
Our last stop had to be at the gift shop, which looked like a mini museum. Novel items, some one-of-a-kind, where interesting and inviting to be purchased. And that we did, too.

For the latest schedule and programs, please click on this link, and go to PROGRAMS.

Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street
Santa Ana, 92705
Tel. (714) 567 3600

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