For sisters, precious metal memories


May 15, 2001|By Nancy Gallant | Nancy Gallant,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MARY THOMMEN and Cecilia Bayne grew up in a home full of beautifully crafted silver. Their father, William F. Thommen, had emigrated from Switzerland as a young boy in 1885. A naturally gifted artist, he learned the silversmith's craft at the Maryland Institute, College of Art and went on to design fine pieces at the Baltimore firm of Samuel Kirk & Sons.

Among Thommen's most popular designs was the Kirk Rose silverware pattern, with voluptuous blossoms ornamenting the handles of the fine tableware. He also helped create jewelry, decorative plaques and plates, frames and buckles, chalices and ciboria.

Bayne remembers him as a kind man and wonderful father, whose artistic skills were an integral part of his life.

Family legend has it that Thommen met his bride-to-be, Mary Riely, at a New Year's party in 1901. Mary was engaged at the time. Thommen had crafted a little silver ring for the New Year's cake. When the cake was cut, the piece with the ring would foretell the next person to get married. Riely got the ring, and she was the next to get married. But she married Thommen.

Together, they raised 12 children, 10 of them boys. On the third floor of their Federal Hill home in Baltimore, Thommen had a workshop where he made silver pieces for his family. The boys had monogrammed belt buckles. For her wedding, Cecilia received monogrammed silver.

One of Thommen's favorite pieces was a silver punchbowl that was presented to the armored cruiser USS Maryland in 1906, part of a 48-piece silver service that was a gift from the state's residents and schoolchildren. Each of Maryland's 23 counties was represented by some of the silver, and the punchbowl set represented the residents of Baltimore.

The silver service stayed with the ship until it was transferred in 1921 to the newly commissioned battleship Maryland. There it stayed until World War II, when it was stored on land for safety.

After the war, the USS Maryland was decommissioned, then scrapped in 1959. The Navy presented the silver service to the state as a gift, with the proviso that it can be recalled if another ship is christened "Maryland."

Schoolchildren, tourists and lovers of Maryland history are familiar with the silver service. It reigns in the Silver Room off the rotunda in the State House. Each year, thousands marvel at the intricate designs and the beautifully crafted pieces, a display of the work of some of Maryland's finest craftsmen.

Donna Giganti, who works at the State House visitors center, says many of the artisans told their families with pride of their work on this service. Over the years, she has met several children, grandchildren and neighbors of these men, admiring the skill of the silversmiths.

Two weeks ago, for the first time, Mary Thommen and Cecilia Bayne went to the State House and saw their father's work. The ladies had moved to Heart Homes in Piney Orchard, an assisted-living center. One day, while talking about day trips they might enjoy, Bayne said that she would like to see the punchbowl her father had talked about many years ago.

She gathered some of her father's work from relatives and showed the other residents how skillful he was. The residents decided they, too, would like to see the famous punchbowl. And Heart Homes arranged a trip to the Silver Room.

"Absolutely gorgeous" was the reaction of resident Marie Gartner to the silver work. "The whole display was out of this world."

Bayne, 84, glows with pride at the exquisite work her father created so many years ago. When sister Mary, 89, was asked what she thought of her father's punchbowl, she smiled: "Well, it was lovely. But all his work was lovely."

And what a lovely memory to hold of a father.

Retirees meeting

Crofton Area Retired Persons will meet at 11 a.m. tomorrow for its annual Club Meade buffet luncheon at Fort Meade.

Membership in the active senior organization is open to all area retirees ages 55 and older. Luncheon meetings are held on the third Wednesday, September through May, and the club also sponsors trips to a variety of regional destinations.

Information: 410-721-2148.

Mother's Day tribute

Heidi Zech will offer a tribute to mothers at this month's meeting of the Christian German American Women's group at noon Monday in the Chapel Center social hall at Fort Meade.

The topic of Zech's speech will be "All Mothers Are Angels." Her presentation will be followed by a German lunch and singing.

The group is open to all women interested in German language and culture. Information: 301-621-7862 or 301-855-6877.

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