Wearing the silver weight of office

September 28, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Writer

When the Rev. Harold "Hap" Ridley takes office Friday as 23rd president of Loyola College since 1852, his shoulders will bear a weight unknown to his predecessors -- a massive sterling silver chain of office.

Called the Presidential Insignia, the necklace is patterned after its medieval counterparts of the type still used for political, academic and honorary offices in some countries, particularly Britain.

The heraldic chain, incorporating symbols important to Loyola and its 1971 merger with Mount St. Agnes, a women's college, is being crafted in a tiny cluttered workshop in an old carriage house in Lovegrove Alley, off Charles Street, where Martha Hopkins, 33, is working 18-hour days to meet the deadline.

The Loyola chain is "like a jigsaw puzzle," Ms. Hopkins said. To make it, she said, she has spent "hundreds of hours" hunched vTC over her bench, molding, hammering, sawing, filing, bending, soldering -- making every piece just right. "It will be close, but I'll have it done on time," she said.

Ms. Hopkins, her father and brother form the last family-owned custom silver smithy in Baltimore, a city once home to many of the country's finest silversmiths.

Although the chain is Ms. Hopkins' first major academic commission, she has spent a decade creating custom-designed silverware and the Hopkins family has a tradition of academic craftsmanship beginning with the ceremonialmace her father, Henry Powell Hopkins Jr., made in 1954 for the Johns Hopkins University.

In 1966, Mr. Hopkins, now 77, made the chain of office for the Hopkins president, which has engraved portraits of all the university's presidents and blanks to add future leaders. His son, Henry Powell Hopkins III, 35, recently fashioned the St. Mary's Seminary ceremonial mace.

Harvard and Yale began what is growing trend among colleges and universities for such heraldic regalia, the senior Mr. Hopkins said as he watched his daughter fitting together some of the many intricate pieces of heavy 12-gauge sterling silver that will make up the Loyola chain.

The most difficult "mechanics" to design and fabricate in the Loyola chain were the linkages between the pieces because the chain will be oval and lay like epaulets on the shoulders while hanging evenly front and back, Ms. Hopkins said.

The symbols include the Loyola corporate seal engraved on a medallion to hang over the wearer's heart; the seal of the Jesuit order, which founded the college, at the back; and on each shoulder, pine cones to represent the alumni as the fruit of its life and its campus on the old Evergreen estate on North Charles Street.

Loyola's merger with Mount St. Agnes is commemorated with the Maltese Cross of the Sisters of Mercy and the four-sided lantern of wisdom and knowledge which forms the head of the Mount St. Agnes mace. In the 1960s, Mr. Hopkins Jr. made that mace, which is used in Loyola College academic processions.

The idea for the chain of office was hatched early this year by Francis J. McGuire, dean of graduate services, and Nicholas Varga, the college archivist. "We thought it would be nice to have something to show the office of president," Dr. McGuire said. "The idea was to tie the present and past."

Dr. McGuire said he found no other silversmiths willing to produce a custom piece like the chain. "The others only do mass-produced things," he said. "Besides we go back a long way with the Hopkins family."

Discussions began in February with Ms. Hopkins presenting sketches and paper and cardboard models of elements of the chain for the committee's consideration.

"I went around the barn with them on several ideas," she said. "The designing was tough because there was a lot of symbolism to be included. When you're building something like this, you're not building it for one or two days but for the life of the college.

"I don't like things to be busy. I want all the elements to be strong and elegant with everything working together, cohesiveness."

Ms. Hopkins said she began work in June but ran into trouble making the pine cone and lantern links and resorted to trial and error until she came up with a stylized three-dimensional design. She even dissected pine cones with a scalpel to see how nature had fitted them together.

She carved models in jeweler's wax to cast in the traditional lost-wax process as single links, but results were disappointing. Finally, she decided to hand-saw each section with a jeweler's saw, then solder them to form the links. The lantern links have four layers of silver while the pine cones have five layers.

"I used about four dozen saw blades to cut all the pieces," she said. "I didn't expect to have to fabricate the lanterns that way."

By tomorrow night, Ms. Hopkins said, the pieces should be assembled and buffed to a brilliant finish. Engraving the names of Father Ridley's predecessors on the backs of the links will be done later, she said.

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