illumination with art glass
Concealing the bright naked electric light bulb was the goal at the turn of the century art glass shade companies of Tiffany, Quezal, Steuben & Lustre Art. Art glass shades and other glass pieces such as candle holders, drinking glasses, finger bowls, vases and even some lamps were all handmade until 1924.
Steuben Glass Works was founded in 1903 by Frederick Carder, who has honed his craft in England. The firm did fairly well in its early years, having perfected the Gold Aurene design (see shade above) that was very similar to iridescent art glass produced by Tiffany. Up until 1932 Carder created signed art glass shades with 140 hues and colors in over 7000 amazing shapes. However, Steuben had a hard time staying afloat during World War I when wartime restrictions made it difficult to get the materials they needed. In 1918 Steuben Glass Works became the Steuben Division of Corning Glass Works, but continued to produce colored art glass until its last known sale in 1943.
Many of the glass manufacturers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries had ties to one another, whether from working together or for each other, and Quezal is a perfect example of the era's interconnectedness. The firm was founded in 1901 by Martin Bach Sr, Thomas Johnson, Nicholas Bach, Lena Scholtz, and Adolph Demuth, many of them former Tiffany employees. Their work was notable for its use of bold iridescent colors, such as blue, gold, purple, and green.
From the beginning Quezal was considered the first real competition for Tiffany. They soon had their own competition though, when two of its employees branched out and started their own firm, Lustre Art Company! Eventually Martin Bach Sr became the majority owner in Quezal, and when he died in 1921 his son took over. Martin Bach Jr was not as adept as a businessman, however, and Quezal closed in 1924. Even with a couple of decades worth of inventory, Quezal kept its production limited compared to their contemporaries, so the surviving pieces are sometimes hard to come by.
The glass manufacturing network from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was quite interconnected, with many artisans leaving firms to start their own, or being influenced by the work of their contemporaries. Lustre Art Company was no different. It was established around 1920 by Conrad Valshing, former vice president of Quezal Art Glass and the son-in-law of Quezal's owner, and Paul Frank, a glass gaffer from Quezal. They brought many designs from Quezal, which can make the two firms' work hard to distinguish. However, Lustre art glass shades were only manufactured between 1920 and 1923, so finding a verified Lustre piece can be rare and is very exciting!
One of the most prolific producers of European art glass in the late 19th century, Loetz Witwe Company was founded in Czechoslovakia in 1836 by Johann Eisner. It wasn't until 1855 that ownership was transferred to Susanne Gerstner, widow of Johann Loetz, for whom the company was renamed. "Witwe" means widow in German. Several decades later, Gerstner's grandson took over the business and began its most prominent era. During this time their craftsmanship won accolades at the Paris World's Exhibition in 1889 and the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Their later Art Nouveau styles, largely inspired by Louis Comfort Tiffany's work, became increasingly popular throughout Europe and the United States. Two of their most notable innovations were the Marmorietes technique and octopus glass, the former creating a marbled red, pink, or green surface, and the latter displaying white curlicues on a dark, mottled surface resembling the sea creature. Following World War I and bankruptcy in 1911, the company began to decline rapidly, despite their attempts to regain recognition through collaborating with acclaimed designers. Loetz Witwe closed permanently in 1947.
One might think that being born into such a notable family as Tiffany would encourage Louis Comfort Tiffany to join the family business, Tiffany & Co. But he was intent on making his own mark in the world, and established his own glassware firm in 1885, focusing on new glass manufacturing methods. Tiffany had patented an opalescent window glass several years earlier, which could be created by combining and manipulating several colors to produce a range of hues and 3D effects. Heavily influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement, Tiffany felt very strongly that nature should be the primary source of design inspiration, which can be seen in the brilliant colors and preference for glass with slight imperfections. Today, his designs are still highly sought-after, and represent some of the best glass manufacturing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
KOKOMO OPALESCENT GLASS COMPANY
Kokomo Opalescent Glass Works has quite the origin story. Started in 1888 in Kokomo, Indiana by Charles Edward Henry and supervised by chemist Vital Belard, the company started out by selling sheet glass to many customers throughout the Midwest, as well as some big name manufacturers such as Tiffany. However, following their gold medal distinction at the 1889 Paris World's Fair for their opalescent glass, the factory became overwhelmed with foreign demand for their inventory. Henry was already in financial straits due to overdue bills from the factory construction, and he began to suffer from delusions of grandeur. His erratic and dangerous behavior led him to be committed to the Indianapolis Insane Asylum in 1890, where he died two years later at age 46.
Meanwhile, Belard's work continued to be highly acclaimed by major art glass firms on the east coast, and the company prospered. In 1891 Kokomo was sold to three "Kokomo capitalists" and Belard went off to start his own firm. Since then, the company has continued to produce glass for Tiffany reproductions and restoration, all while producing old favorites and new designs for their own customer base.
Pairpoint has the distinction of being America's oldest glass company. It claims its humble beginnings as the Mount Washington Glass Company in 1837 South Boston, under the direction of Deming Jarves. Throughout the next 50 years it became known for producing the finest glass in the United States. The company as it is known today emerged in 1894 when it merged with the smaller glass firm next door and changed its name to Pairpoint Manufacturing Company. Examples of the exquisite craftsmanship can be seen in over 30 museums across the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian collections, and our very own Minneapolis Institute of Art.