By Barbara Judkins and Megan Maxwell, site manager and curator at Starr Family Home State Historic Site
Ruth Starr Blake, the second youngest daughter of Frank and Clara Clapp Starr, grew up in Maplecroft, the centerpiece of the Starr Family Home State Historic Site. She was married to Arthur Blake in 1904, and by all accounts the marriage was a good match. The couple lived cozily in a Queen Anne Victorian Cottage built just for them in 1905 on the northwest corner of her parent’s property and the current Starr Family Home site. By 1922, Ruth was a young widow with no children. She moved back into Maplecroft permanently to take care of her widowed mother and oversee the property.
After Ruth’s husband died, her beloved niece Clara Pope Willoughby gave her a gift of four silver spoons. Little did either know this sweet gift would ignite a 40-year passion for collecting and, as a bonus, a passion for travel. By combining both interests, Ruth managed to amass an impressive collection of silver and decorative arts. The silver collection, made between 1776 and 1790, includes more than 400 pieces created in the workshop of Hester Bateman and is one of the largest collections of Hester Bateman silver in the world.
Bateman, an English silversmith, registered her own hallmark after her jeweler husband, John Bateman, died in 1860 and she inherited the tools of his trade. She developed a successful silversmith business with the help of her sons, and it carried on through three generations of the Bateman family. Her classically beautiful pieces, simple and affordable, were popular with all facets of society. The rising middle class of the 18th century especially wanted these fine silver pieces in their homes. Today, she is considered one of England’s best silversmiths of high-quality household silverware.
While beautiful objects such as Wedgwood ceramics and Jasperware, Meissen porcelain and Murano glass remain in the collection of the Starr Family Home, the majority of Ruth’s large collection resides in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin as the Willoughby-Blake Collection of Silver and Decorative Arts. The collection was inherited by Clara Willoughby, and she donated it to UT in memory of her aunt, Ruth Starr Blake.