One can get a sense of how the lives of artisans have changed in a few generations time through little suggestive windows left from the turn of the century. Candid home snapshots start appearing, indexed documents are more easily found. Without too much information, the life or Peer Smed was a successful one. The son of a blacksmith, he moved to New York from Copenhagen, where the silversmith guilds would help promising artisans emigrate for fear of having a surplus in their countries. He occupied one studio and never left it, having five children several of whom grew up working with him. His work was held in museums during his lifetime, and he contributed architectural elements throughout the city. He lost a daughter when she was 18.
What is striking to me is the stability (standard of living) for the memorable metal artists of this time – from residency, to commission, to family and home. By contrast, a modern metal artisan may choose their trade arbitrarily out of interest, is very briefly trained at great personal expense, and is left to seek their fortune as an entrepreneur. Their skills frequently have little outlet among modern products (Peer Smed would make silverware and table services, for instance). For contemporaries the establishment of a permanent studio and a family is often delayed for a long period of time. This is not to say that every metalsmith of his day was of the calibre of Peer Smed, but one can see a distinction between a recent history of holistic cultural integration in the trade, and the literally radical and novel market based challenges today. Which is to say, an individual that understakes the approach of fine craft today, especially as an adult, is possessed of a good measure of courage.
Most of these images as you can see, are from a site that has an interesting bio page including photographs, I recommend you take a look and perhaps reflect on similar things: Peer Smed