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Audain Art Museum loaned historic vase from the National Gallery

Tiffany's-made Ptarmigan Vase unveiled at private reception on Monday



The Audain Art Museum has been loaned a significant artwork from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

The 112-year-old Ptarmigan Vase was unveiled at a private reception at the Audain on Monday, May 16.

It will be on public display for three years, starting Wednesday, May 18.

The 63.5-cm vase — made from copper, silver and gold in 18 layers of metals bonded together using the tradition Japanese mokume technique — has a connection to British Columbia’s gold prospecting days.

The vase is one of two Ptarmigan Vases designed by Paulding Farnham of Tiffany & Company in 1911, and made by silversmiths from that company.

The two vases were fashioned out of a one-tonne block of precious metal mined from the Ptarmigan mines in B.C.’s Selkirk Mountains.

It depicts a rock ptarmigan — a species of grouse from the region — perching on a ring crafted with silver and copper designs inspired by First Nations sculpture and basketry.

At the time it was purchased by the National Gallery, former Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore called it a “unique historical and cultural artifact of outstanding significance to all Canadians.”

The gold seal adorning the front of the vase bears the British Columbia coat of arms adopted in 1895. The Latin cross immediately beneath is a surveying symbol that indicates the latitude and longitude where the Ptarmigan Mine and Mount Farnham are situated. The sides are engraved with figures, including an eagle, a large stylized mask and a small crescent moon.

“The National Gallery of Canada acquired this extraordinary vessel at a New York auction in January 2011 for US$662,500, as they wanted a strong representation of an older work from British Columbia,” said the Audain’s chief curator Darrin Martens in a release.

“In addition to its links with B.C., this masterpiece is important because of its use of B.C. First Nations iconography, constructed by the best crafts people Tiffany employed in the early 1900s, under the direction of Tiffany’s star designer Paulding Farnham.”

The vase was unveiled in front of members of the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization, who came to Whistler for the organization’s annual spring conference, hosted by the Audain.