Contributed by Sarah Downing
The Western Regional Archives recently acquired an important collection of personal papers and business records of William Waldo Dodge Jr. (1895–1971), an architect and silversmith of note who began his career in Asheville in the late 1920s and worked until his retirement in 1956.
Although born and reared in Washington, D.C., Dodge came to the Asheville area to convalesce at the U.S. General Hospital #19 at Oteen after sustaining injuries during World War I. It was at Oteen that Dodge became interested in metal work, a skill he learned as part of a rehabilitation program at the hospital. He married an occupational therapist, Margaret Wheeler Robinson, in 1921.
Shortly after their nuptials, William suffered a respiratory relapse, and the couple moved to Connecticut, close to Margaret’s mother, where William would enter the Gaylord Sanitorium. Margaret joined the staff, and soon set up a silversmithing shop where patients could learn practical skills and the sanitorium could generate income from the finished silver pieces. It is believed that William Waldo Dodge honed his skills working under the direction of professionals from nearby silver manufacturers—R. Wallace and Son of Wallingford, Connecticut; International Silver of Meridian, Connecticut; and Gorham of New York.
The Dodges returned to Asheville in 1923 and, with the help of William Waldo Dodge Sr., bought a house near the Grove Park Inn. Dodge Jr. then opened Asheville Silvercraft in a small cottage on Charlotte Street. He began creating small utilitarian pieces such as serving utensils and sherbet dishes. Soon he caught the attention of the Country Club of Asheville, who commissioned Dodge to create silver plates and bowls to be awarded as prizes for golf tournaments.
By 1928, he had designed and built his own studio, The Dodge Silver Shop, in Biltmore Forest. His work was known for its heavy gauge and hammering techniques and was popular enough for Dodge to hire and train 3 additional silversmiths.
In addition to silversmithing, Dodge, who earned a degree in architecture at MIT prior to his military service, worked as an architect, gaining commissions in the Asheville area, even during the early years during the Great Depression. His work included designing homes in Biltmore Forest, Grove Park, and Enka Mill Village, as well as a commercial building in downtown Asheville. In 1942, with opportunities for designing houses or selling silver slim, Dodge and five Asheville architects formed Six Associates, a firm specializing in defense contracts.
The collection is a donation from Bruce E. Johnson, who spent many years assembling original letters, photographs, drawings, articles, and notes relating to the life and work of William Waldo Dodge Jr. Johnson’s efforts culminated in an exhibit, Hand Wrought, the Artistry of William Waldo Dodge at the Asheville Art Museum in 2005, which he guest-curated along with authoring the exhibition checklist. Included in the Bruce E. Johnson Collection on William Waldo Dodge Jr. are materials given to Johnson by the Dodge family.