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Widely considered to be the most important metalsmith of the Arts and Crafts movement, Dirk van Erp was born in the Netherlands into a family of coppersmiths. He emigrated to the United States in 1890 and arrived in San Francisco in 1891 where he began working at the Union Iron Works. In 1900, by which point he had married and begun a family, van Erp moved to Vallejo, California and took up work as a coppersmith at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. There he crafted vases out of brass shell casings as gifts for friends and family, and he also started consigning his metalwork to local stores.
In 1908, van Erp opened his first shop, the Art Copper Shop, in Oakland and the following year he exhibited over two dozen pieces at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. His shop was awarded a gold medal, setting him on a path to greater success. He moved to San Francisco in 1910, partnering with talented designer Elizabeth D’Arcy Gaw, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago who had recently studied at Charles Robert Ashbee’s School and Guild of Handicraft in London. Though short-lived (Gaw departed after just one year), her time there exerted a lasting influence on van Erp’s style and designs.
In 1915, van Erp exhibited at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and his shop continued operating until he was forced to limit production during WWI, at which point he returned to Union Iron Works to contribute to the war effort. After the war, he resumed a prolific level of production. He retired in 1929 and, after his death in 1933, van Erp’s son William continued operations until his own death in 1977.
Dirk van Erp’s copper and mica lamps, vessels, vases, and other creations are some of the most exceptional in both design and quality to have been made in the Arts and Crafts period. His craft legacy lives on through the Dirk van Erp Foundation, the Dirk van Erp Workshop Museum, and in permanent collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement, St. Petersburg.