In Focus

Dallas Museum of Art exhibition to explore the art of the cocktail

Cocktail shaker and cups, (1928) Wallace Brothers Silver Company
Cocktail shaker and cups, (1928) Wallace Brothers Silver Company

There is a mystique imparted in the concoction, preparation and presentation of cocktails, and it’s all captured in “Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail,” a yearlong exhibition opening Nov. 18 at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Featuring nearly 60 works that include high-design shakers, glasses and other pieces of barware, the exhibit tells the story of the history and culture of the cocktail.

There’s a lot to drink in, beginning with an 1806 description of the cocktail as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” It was the high-octane offspring of punch, the diluted communal drink shared in a tavern or home by Colonial elites with plenty of time on their hands.

“When the United States and Europe began to industrialize, there was less free time to partake of the flowing bowl,” explains Samantha Robinson, the museum’s interim assistant curator of decorative arts and design.

Responding to an increasing demand for a stronger, more efficient and more individualized drink, bartenders began inventing cocktails. In 1862 came the first published collection of recipes: legendary bartender Jerry Thomas’ guide How To Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion.

With the proliferation of recipes came tools of the trade, a sampling of which are on display. Taken largely from the Jewel Stern American Silver Collection, the exhibition features 19th-century punch bowls, early-20th-century liquor decanters and glasses, Prohibition-era cocktail shakers and art deco and modern barware, much of which has not been seen before and lots of which is shiny.

“Silver was one of the most favored materials for luxury barware, particularly during the 1920s, a period not only marked by Prohibition, but also economic prosperity,” Robinson says. “Following the stock market crash of 1929, manufacturers increasingly began releasing silver-plated or chrome-plated wares that provided the appearance of silver at reduced prices.”

The golden age of barware spanned from the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919, which ushered in Prohibition, to the Black Thursday stock market crash in 1929. Oddly enough, the 18th Amendment prohibited the manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcohol — but not the actual drinking of it.

“The cocktail really has its moment when it is illegal,” Robinson says. “While legal bars are closing, illicit speakeasies are cropping up. There were more speakeasies during Prohibition than bars before.”

The semi-stealth nature of the Prohibition era explains some of the strange and whimsical forms barware of the era took. “The rooster is a very popular example of a representative form to disguise what the shaker actually is,” Robinson says. “In the show we have one of the best examples: a rooster shaker and set of glasses from Wallace, one of the manufacturers during this time.”

There also are loans from a collector in Ennis, including a shaker shaped like a Boston lighthouse, one like a golf bag, another like a penguin.

And there’s a Waring blender that so handsomely and harmoniously blends form and function that it puts the Ninja and all its modern ilk to shame. “It was a collaboration between a businessman, inventor and designer that epitomizes industrial design of the 1930s, which at its best produced products that simultaneously solved new problems — in this case the development of the first commercially viable mechanized beverage blender — visually captured the zeitgeist of the era, and appealed to increasingly discerning consumers,” Robinson says.

There’s the almost kitschy “Bottoms Up” cocktail tumblers that ought to have an NC-17 rating and an exceptional enamel martini glass designed and handcrafted by Latvian-born, Russian-trained Valeri Timofeev “in the middle of the 1998 to 2004 run of the HBO series Sex and the City, yet another popular culture boon for the martini glass,” as the exhibition label explains.

Last month, Robinson was still putting the finishing touches on the exhibition labels and the show’s accompanying digital app. She fantasized about what she might be drinking if she hadn’t been working: “If I could, I would shake an Aviation — a boozy mixture of gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon juice — in the monumental red and black enameled International Silver Company cocktail shaker and sip it from the equally architectural Modern American cocktail cup, designed by Danish designer Erik Magnussen and manufactured by Gorham Manufacturing Company,” she says. “While the shaker and cup evoke the skyscraper, the Aviation suggests the airplane, another symbol of power, progress and prosperity in the early 20th century.”


Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail

Nov. 18-Nov. 12, 2017, Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St., Dallas. Free, 214-922-1200,