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Page with red hand icon; also contains text
Product Tag for an Original George Nelson Design Executed by Herman Miller, 1955 / THF298217


George Nelson is one of the giants of American Modern design. Often with such individuals, it is usually sufficient to point to their output—the architecture, products, graphics they designed—as a way to simplify and quantify their impact. While George Nelson’s output was undeniably significant, an accounting of his legacy in this way will always fall short. Nelson’s contributions to Modernism and the field of design are akin to his office’s famous Marshmallow Sofa—a study in how parts relate to the whole.

Born in 1908 to an affluent family in Connecticut, George Nelson was encouraged to cultivate his intellect from a young age. He attended Yale University—more so for its proximity to home and prestige in the eyes of his parents than due to his own desire—and quite literally happened upon the study of architecture by chance. He recalled ducking into the architecture building on Yale’s campus to avoid a sudden rainfall. Student renderings of cemetery gateways hung in the halls. Nelson “fell in love instantly with the whole business of creating designs for cemetery gateways” and decided, “without further question,” to become an architect. He graduated with his B.A. in 1928 and a B.F.A. in 1931.

Love seat with minimal metal frame and seat and back each composed of nine blue fabric-covered rounds
Marshmallow Love Seat, 1956-1965 / THF134573

Writing on Design


Nelson graduated with his new degree as the Great Depression tightened its grip on the United States. He was offered a teaching job at Yale, but was soon let go. He later considered this lucky, saying “…if you’re lucky, you are not allowed to stay safe. You’re thrown into jeopardy.” After a period of uncertainty in which he threw himself into applications for architectural fellowships in Europe, he was successful in winning the prestigious Rome Prize. This came with an all expenses paid, two-year architectural fellowship in Rome, which he took from 1932–1934.  Those years in Rome allowed Nelson to travel throughout Europe, study great architecture, and become acquainted with many of the leading figures in the budding Modernism movement.

Architectural criticism and theory writing became a continuous outlet for Nelson throughout his career, beginning in the early 1930s when he first published drawings and articles in Pencil Points and Architecture magazines. Upon his return to the United States, he took a position with The Architectural Forum in New York City and worked his way up to co-managing editor. Nelson’s career path didn’t continue in a linear fashion, but sprouted offshoots. Soon, he simultaneously continued his journalistic pursuits (and expanded to other publications), designed architectural commissions, and created exhibitions. The work was never about the output, but about the process and the solving of problems in whichever way a circumstance demanded.

Image of woman sitting surrounded by random items next to a large, thin cabinet
LIFE magazine for January 22, 1945 / THF623999

The Storage Wall


While writing a book on the house of the future titled Tomorrow’s House with Architectural Forum colleague Henry Wright, Nelson confronted the problem of household storage inadequacies, among other domestic matters. He explained his method in writing the book, “you will not find a chapter on bedrooms … but a great deal about sleeping.” His storage solution was a masterful rethinking of furniture and architecture in one. He recalled his “aha” moment: “My goodness, if you took those walls and pumped more air into them and they got thicker and thicker until maybe they were 12 inches thick, you would have hundreds and hundreds of running feet of storage.” Nelson’s innovative “storage wall” opened new doors for the furniture industry for years to come. His idea was featured in Architectural Forum in 1944 and then in a generous 1945 spread in Life magazine. It also attracted the attention of D.J. De Pree, the founder of the Herman Miller Furniture Company in Zeeland, Michigan.

Page with text; illustration of house at top; and two photos of thin storage cabinets at bottom
LIFE Magazine for January 22, 1945 / THF623998

A Market for Good Design


After the untimely death of Gilbert Rohde, D.J. De Pree began to look for a new director of design. Rohde had successfully set the Herman Miller Furniture Company on the path of Modernism and De Pree was looking to continue that trajectory. Initially, De Pree considered German architect Erich Mendelsohn or industrial designer Russel Wright for the post, but eventually chose George Nelson, sensing a kindred spirit in a perhaps unlikely partnership. De Pree was devoutly religious and a teetotaler; Nelson, always accompanied by the lingering smell of cigarette smoke, questioned everything—especially religion—and loved martinis. Despite these differences, De Pree thought, rightfully, that Nelson was “thinking well ahead of the parade,” and hired him for the job. Like De Pree and Rohde, Nelson was completely invested in continuing Herman Miller’s focus on honesty and quality in Modern design. In the forward to a groundbreaking 1948 catalogue, Nelson outlined the company philosophy:

The attitude that governs Herman Miller’s behavior, as far as I can make out, is compounded of the following set of principles:

                What you make is important….

                Design is an integral part of the business….

                The product must be honest….

                You decide what you will make….

                There is a market for good design.

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Advertisement for Herman Miller Furniture Company, "George Nelson Designs," October 1947 / THF623977

Herman Miller and George Nelson’s decades-long collaboration was fruitful almost immediately. Nelson rethought some of Gilbert Rohde’s furniture and issued lines of his own furniture design. He had proven himself a prescient thought leader in the design world through his writing, but became adept at finding talented people and bringing them together for the greater good of design. D.J. De Pree admitted surprise when Nelson requested to bring on other designers—even before his own contract was formalized. Instead of hoarding the glory (and potential income) for himself, Nelson saw the far-reaching benefits of collaboration with other visionary designers. It was Nelson who brought together the core design team that still shapes Herman Miller’s design today—most notably, Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Alexander Girard.

A tendency towards collaboration was not isolated to Nelson’s work at Herman Miller. In his personal life, he counted architect Minoru Yamasaki and architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller among his close friends. And those that he employed in his eponymous design office (which had many clients, although Herman Miller was certainly the largest account for many years) were the best of the best too. These staff designers—Irving Harper, Tomoko Miho, Lance Wyman, and Don Ervin, to name just a few—maintained the constant hum of the office. They diligently continued to ideate, design, and make for the office’s clients. Sometimes they executed their own concepts, and other times the staff designers brought their metaphorical and literal pens to paper for some of Nelson’s lofty visions.

Nelson has faced fair criticism of taking more credit than was due for some of the designs that came from his office. He positioned himself as a powerful brand—and many of those who worked under him gained valuable experience, but perhaps never the full realization of their efforts in the public sphere.

Graphic card containing geometric shapes, some in red and black, and text
Trade Card for Herman Miller, “Come and See the New Designs at the Herman Miller Showroom,” circa 1955 /  THF215327

George Nelson actively designed for Herman Miller until the early 1970s and continued designing products, exhibits, interiors, graphics, and more with his own firm until 1984. He lectured and wrote on design theory and practice until his death in 1986, influencing and inspiring generations of designers. George Nelson’s contributions to design are much greater than his output—the products, writings, structures, and graphics he produced. He may have been more concerned with principles and processes than about the tangible result—but his loftier focus is what made his tangible designs so effective. Nelson’s ideas and ideals shaped the Modernist design movement and his influence can still be felt, reverberating through the halls of design offices and school halls alike.


Katherine White is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

home life, furnishings, Herman Miller, by Katherine White, design

The Arts and Crafts Movement was a reaction against ornate and what it considered “overwrought” decoration. Led by the British designer, philosopher, and social reformer William Morris (1838–1896), the movement sought to redirect public taste toward simpler esthetics. He also sought to reform industry and politics. Members of the movement used the term “arts and crafts” because they worked to reunify the fine arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture) with the crafts (such as metalwork, ceramics, and textiles) that had been demoted to second-class status with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

Morris created the first interior design firm, Morris and Company, in London in the 1860s. His idea was to reform society through the home. The ideas of the Arts and Crafts Movement were widely disseminated, and its influence began to be felt in the United States by the 1880s and 1890s. By the turn of the 20th century, America had its own Arts and Crafts tastemaker, Gustav Stickley, who echoed many of the arguments put forth by William Morris. Stickley produced furniture and published an influential magazine called The Craftsman.

Upholstered yellow chair with multiple types of fabric, decorated with many large tassels
Armchair from "Turkish" Parlor Set, 1885-1895 / THF154405

Armchair with wooden, slatted slides and brown leather upholstered seat and back
Morris Chair, 1912-1916, Made by Gustav Stickley / THF159902

Comparing Stickley’s “Morris” armchair with a “Turkish” style late Victorian armchair clearly shows the distinction between the two. The Stickley chair is very rectilinear, with the solid oak structure exposed, where the “Turkish” style armchair is covered with lavish upholstery and highly decorative tassels and swags. Both are intended to be comfortable seating, but the Stickley chair has a mission—to reform taste. In fact, much American Arts and Crafts furniture is described as “Mission” furniture.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, began to emerge as a furniture-making center long before the Arts and Crafts Movement evolved in America. Beginning in the 1870s, and certainly by the 1880s, Grand Rapids became the center of furniture-making in America. There were an estimated 40 different companies producing furniture in the city by 1900. Two of the most interesting were the Stickley Brothers Company and the Charles Limbert Company.

Wooden furniture on casters with drawers topped by a slanted flat surface (that presumably folds down to form a desk)
Slant-Front Desk, 1910-1920, Made by Stickley Brothers Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan / THF160413

The Stickley Brothers Company, headquartered in Grand Rapids, was one of three Stickley family furniture firms. The others were headed by older brother Gustav, called “Craftsman Furniture,” and located in Eastwood, New York, now part of Syracuse. Gustav was the most famous of the Stickley brothers because of his Craftsman magazine. Two younger brothers formed the L. and J.G. (Leopold and John George) Stickley Furniture Company in Fayetteville, New York. This firm also produced important Arts and Crafts Furniture. Ironically, the Grand Rapids enterprise was the first chronologically, with Gustav, Leopold, and John George departing over time to create their own companies.

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Page with text and image of building within oval shape
Pages from Limbert Trade Catalogue, about 1910 / THF610595, THF610593, and THF610594

Charles Limbert’s company began in 1889 as a typical Victorian furniture maker. With the rise of the Stickley Brothers firm in the 1890s, Limbert began to hire designers knowledgeable in the most current trends in order to compete. From 1900 to 1910, Limbert became one of the most varied in production of any of the Arts and Crafts furniture makers. Their sales dramatically increased, and in 1910 they added a second factory in Holland, Michigan. The Henry Ford is fortunate to have a broad range of Limbert furniture in our collection, as well as a detailed trade catalogue dating to the height of the firm’s production, around 1910.

Wooden dresser topped with large mirror
Limbert Dresser with Mirror, 1905-1915 / THF159601

This dresser with mirror is typical of the standard types of Limbert’s production, a well-made and well-proportioned chest of drawers. It is typically Arts and Crafts, made of oak and expressing its method of construction via visible structural elements, like the stretchers or struts holding the legs together.

Simple wooden table
Limbert Library Table, 1905-1915 / THF159607

This library table, which could also be used in a parlor or living room, is a quintessential form in Arts and Crafts furniture making. Limbert, however, provides several unique features for how this table may be used.

Wooden table with piece extended to form writing surface
Where other furniture makers would place a drawer along the long side of the table, Limbert’s designers added an ingenious pull-out writing surface, transforming it into a desk. / THF159606

Wooden table with top extended and hinged open to reveal storage space inside
The designers also hinged the writing surface, allowing for storage space in what otherwise would have been a simple drawer. / THF159605

Page with text and shadow of windmill in the background
Page with text and two small images of windmills
Pages from Limbert Trade Catalogue, about 1910 / THF610527, THF610536

One of the interesting things about Limbert’s marketing strategy was their interest in linking themselves with the Dutch origins of many in western Michigan, as seen in these pages from their 1910 catalogue.

Small wooden table or stool with four wide, uniquely shaped legs and octagonal top
Tabouret, 1905-1915 / THF185486

With the benefit of historical perspective, we can see that Limbert’s designers were looking at a variety of sources, some highly original. This small table, or tabouret, is an example of a design unique to the Limbert shop, as it lacks the angular forms typical in most Arts and Crafts furniture.

Page with text and images of chairs, rocking chairs, tables, and a bench
Page from Limbert 1910 Catalogue Showing Tabourets / THF610591

Looking at the catalogue, we can see that the tabouret was sold in a variety of sizes.

Color illustration of dining room very full of furniture and decorative accessories
Dining Room from Limbert 1910 Catalogue / THF610531

This elaborate illustration from the 1910 catalogue shows the ideal dining room with an adjacent breakfast nook. While many of the furnishings are standard Arts and Crafts designs that could have been made by many American makers, the unconvential dining room chairs are unique to Limbert. Specifically, the chair backs show a solid central splat vertical element and feature open squares along the top. This may derive from contemporary English or German sources, which were available to Limbert’s staff through design magazines.

Bedroom very full of furniture and other decorative accessories
Bedroom and Sleeping Porch from Limbert 1910 Catalogue / THF610535

A bedroom with an adjacent sleeping porch was very popular in the era before air conditioning. It was considered healthy to sleep surrounded by fresh air when diseases like tuberculosis were common. The furniture is typical for Arts and Crafts, but the bright blue walls are a departure from the earth tones which were promoted by tastemakers like Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Room with sloped wooden ceiling very full of furniture and other decorative accessories
Attic Bedroom from Limbert 1910 Catalogue / THF610534

The room shown above was probably intended for an older child about ready to head off to college—note the Michigan pennant hanging above the bed. The use of an attic space as a bedroom was unusual. The library table mentioned earlier is pushed up against the back wall.

The Arts and Crafts period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one of the most inventive in the history of American decorative arts. Within that period, one of the most creative of American firms was the Charles Limbert Company, as these image and objects demonstrate. At The Henry Ford, we are fortunate to hold these collections and pleased to be able to share them.


Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.

design, Michigan, home life, furnishings, decorative arts, by Charles Sable

Light blue car with distinctively pointed headlights and center front grille
The Henry Ford’s 1951 Studebaker Champion, a cousin to Fozzie Bear’s 1951 Commander. / THF90649


Cars and movies go together like peanut butter and jelly, or cake and ice cream. It’s only natural. The two industries appeared almost simultaneously around the turn of the 20th century. Southern California became a major center of American automobile culture and, of course, the center of the U.S. film industry. Over time, certain movies even came to define certain marques. Aston Martin had Goldfinger, DeLorean had Back to the Future, and Studebaker had… The Muppet Movie.

For those who haven’t seen The Muppet Movie, which brought Jim Henson’s creations to the big screen, for the first time, in 1979, stop reading and go watch it right now. Seriously. I’ll wait.

But if a summary has to suffice, then I’ll tell you that The Muppet Movie is in the tradition of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope “Road” movies, where a simple trip turns into a series of misadventures. But instead of Bing and Bob, you get Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. (Well, you get Bob too, but I digress.) The movie follows Kermit as he makes his way from the Florida swamps to the bright lights of Hollywood, chasing his dream to “make millions of people happy” in show business. Along the way he meets Fozzie, the Great Gonzo, Miss Piggy, and all the usual Muppet favorites.

Man leans over miniature pool table in front of a wall filled with posters
Paul Williams, seen on a 1980 visit to The Henry Ford, co-wrote The Muppet Movie’s songs. He’d previously penned hits for Three Dog Night, the Carpenters, and Barbra Streisand. / THF128260

Kermit begins his journey on a bicycle, but, after meeting Fozzie Bear, the two continue the trip in Fozzie’s uncle’s 1951 Studebaker Commander. The Stude doesn’t make it all the way to Hollywood—they trade it in for a 1946 Ford station wagon partway through—but it features in two of the movie’s memorable musical numbers: “Movin’ Right Along” and “Can You Picture That?,” both co-written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher.

The Muppet Movie is more than great songs and story. The film set new standards in puppetry by convincingly putting its characters into “real world” settings. Prior to Henson’s work, puppets were largely stationary figures, stuck behind props that hid puppeteers from view. Even early Muppet projects, notably The Muppet Show, suffered from this limitation. But in The Muppet Movie, Kermit rides a bicycle, Gonzo floats through the sky below a bunch of balloons, and Fozzie, of course, drives his Commander.

Close-up of car grille with pointed areas at either end housing headlights and in the middle
The Studebaker’s “bullet nose” served a practical purpose for the filmmakers. / THF90652

In a way, these elaborate special effects were responsible for the Studebaker appearing in the film. The 1951 Commander’s most distinctive feature is the chrome “bullet nose” between its headlights. The special-effects Commander used in The Muppet Movie had its bullet removed and replaced with a small video camera. The car’s trunk was fitted with a TV screen connected to the camera, a steering wheel, throttle and brake controls, and a seat. With these modifications, a small person was able to operate the car, hidden from view and able to see the road ahead via the camera. With Fozzie placed in the driver’s seat; his puppeteer, Frank Oz, hidden under the dashboard; and the car’s operator concealed in the trunk, it appeared as though the comic bear himself was driving the Studebaker in several scenes. The trick worked so well that, more than 40 years later in the age of computer-generated special effects, Fozzie’s driving is still remarkably convincing. The crew used a second, unmodified Commander for shots where driving effects weren’t needed.

Practical concerns weren’t the only reasons a Commander was used in the movie. In comments published in Turning Wheels, the newsletter of the Studebaker Drivers Club, The Muppet Movie screenwriter Jerry Juhl described the ’51 Commander as perhaps the “goofiest” looking car ever put into production. Goofiness, Juhl added, was a highly-respected quality in the Henson organization, so it seemed only fitting that Fozzie should drive that particular car.

Man with mustache wearing suit and striped tie leans on a surface holding a small car model
Studebaker’s bullet nose was part of a long, productive relationship between the automaker and industrial designer Raymond Loewy. / THF144005

That bullet nose is a story unto itself. Credit for the feature goes to designer Bob Bourke, working for Studebaker contractor Raymond Loewy Associates at the time. As Bourke later recalled, Loewy told him to model the car’s appearance after an airplane. Bourke responded with the bullet, more properly described as a propeller or a spinner, since it’s a direct reference to that crucial aviation device. And a divisive device it was. People either loved the Studebaker bullet nose or they hated it (and so it goes today).

It’s worth noting that the feature wasn’t without precedent. Ford had used a similar device on its groundbreaking 1949 models. (In fact, Bob Bourke later said that he had contributed informally to the design of the 1949 Ford. You can read Bourke’s reminiscences here.) Studebaker used the bullet nose for just two model years, 1950 and 1951, but it remains one of the company’s most memorable designs.

Advertisement with picture of yellow car at airport next to airplane; also contains smaller pictures and text
Studebaker emphasized the aviation influence on the bullet nose design in this 1950 advertisement. / THF100021

The Henry Ford’s collections include a Maui Blue 1951 Studebaker Champion coupe. The lower-priced Champion featured a six-cylinder engine, while the Commander came with a standard V-8. Other than their different badges, the look of the two models is nearly identical. But if you’d like to see the actual car that Fozzie and Kermit used in The Muppet Movie, then head over to South Bend, Indiana. The effects car survives in the collections of (where else) the Studebaker National Museum. It still wears the psychedelic paint scheme applied by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem in a clever plot device—faded with age, but unmistakable.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Driving America, Henry Ford Museum, popular culture, music, movies, Jim Henson, design, cars, by Matt Anderson

Imagine attending a choral concert in a century-old church. Instead of monochromatic robes, the choristers emerge in bright, radiant color with bold geometric design. The colors of the robes are a musical key, made visual—yellow for the soprano, orange for the contralto, red for the tenor, and purple for the bass. As the choristers sing and sway, the robes come alive, a modern counterpoint to the traditional church interior.

Imagination aside, this is a scene familiar to those who have watched the Hope College Chapel Choir perform. Originally a creation of Charles and Ray Eames from the 1950s, faithful replicas of the robes continue to be used.

Group of people in colorful robes with black stripes, standing on bleachers in front of a stained glass window
The Hope College Chapel Choir at Dimnent Chapel, circa 2001. Photo Courtesy of the Joint Archives of Holland.

Although husband-and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames collaborated in nearly everything, it was Ray who showed an early and enduring interest in textiles and fashion design. The daughter of a theatre aficionado and manager, she attended the Bennett School for Girls, a two-year college in Millbrook, New York, earning a degree in Fashion Design in 1933. She completed fashion sketches throughout her life—even creating original paper dolls with custom clothing, complete with the tabs used to affix the clothing onto the doll! She designed a few textiles (one of which—“Crosspatch”—won an honorable mention in a 1946 Museum of Modern Art competition) and dedicated significant energy into the design and creation of her own clothing. The clothes she designed for herself and for Charles are quintessential Eames—functional yet beautiful, with playful delights to be found in the details.

D.J. De Pree, the founder and president of the Herman Miller Furniture Company (which produced Charles and Ray Eames’ furniture), was known for his religious fervor. Further, the company is headquartered in Zeeland, Michigan, a Dutch-American enclave with deep Protestant Christian roots. So, when an employee suggested the creation of a company-sponsored chorus in 1952 (something that might otherwise have been an unusual corporate activity), the De Prees granted it legitimacy, naming it the Herman Miller Mixed Chorus and inviting the chorus to perform at company and company-sponsored events. They soon required choral robes to outfit the company chorus and asked Charles and Ray Eames to design them.

Two white robes with blue bands around the wrists, one with a yellow center panel with black stripes; the other with an orange center panel with black stripes
Herman Miller Mixed Chorus Soprano and Contralto Vocalist Choir Robes, 1953-1960 / THF75585, THF75580

With Ray’s background, it is likely that she was primarily responsible for the design, although as always in collaboration with her husband. The robes are bold and colorful and make a statement, but they are also functional. Their symbolism is evidence of the Eames’ signature research-heavy process and attention to detail. The colors of the robes identify the vocal type (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and each color’s hue (from light to dark) corresponds with the vocal range (from high to low). The horizontal black lines at the center of each robe reference the musical staff. Charles and Ray may have scoured the extensive Eames Office reference library to ensure symbolic depth and accuracy. Or, perhaps, this came from an ingrained knowledge of music. They enjoyed a variety of musical types, like jazz, folk, and classical, and music was a major component of the films they produced throughout their life, often collaborating with talented composers like Elmer Bernstein. The theatrical backdrop of Ray’s childhood, her interest in textiles and fashion, and the Eames’ interest in music coalesce in these robes.

Two white robes with blue bands around the wrists, one with a red center panel with black stripes; the other with an purple center panel with black stripes
Herman Miller Mixed Chorus Tenor and Bass Vocalist Choir Robes, 1953-1960 / THF75574THF75569

The robes were designed at the Eames Office in Los Angeles, but it is unknown whether the robes were created there and shipped, finished, to Zeeland, or if the patterns and fabric were shipped and the robes were then sewn locally.

By 1960, the Herman Miller Mixed Chorus was disbanded, and Hugh De Pree, son of D.J. De Pree, donated the robes to the Hope College Chapel Choir in the neighboring city of Holland, Michigan, where the family had deep connections. The Hope College Chapel Choir was larger than the Herman Miller Mixed Chorus, so more robes had to be made. Doris Schrotenboer and Millie Grinwis, a mother and daughter team from Zeeland, made the extra. Millie Grinwis recalls that the fabric and patterns were shipped from the Eames Office to her mother’s home, where they were painstakingly put together.

After over 44 years in use, the original robes were retired in 2004. Unwilling, however, to part with the signature design, Hope College commissioned replicas, albeit in a slightly lighter fabric. The original robes were donated to several institutions. At The Henry Ford, these robes add an extra dimension to our design collections, as well as another way to better understand the many talents of Charles and Ray Eames.

Black-and-white photo with TV camera in foreground, pointing at group of people in robes being conducted by another person in a robe
The Hope College Chapel Choir recording at Milwaukee’s WTMJ-TV, circa 1965. / Photo Courtesy of the Joint Archives of Holland.


Katherine White is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. She is also an alumnus of Hope College, where she was first delighted by these robes! Thank you to Geoffrey Reynolds at the Joint Archives of Holland for graciously sharing pictures of the Hope College Chapel Choir through the years.

Michigan, women's history, music, Herman Miller, fashion, Eames, design, by Katherine White

This is the fourth of a series of blog posts presented in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. The exhibit, consisting of approximately 60 artifacts, is on view at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from March 6, 2021, through April 25, 2021. Many of the objects shown here are from the collections of The Henry Ford and provide background on themes in the exhibition; those not from our collection are credited by source.

The Influence of Tiffany in His Lifetime


Tall, thin vase with organic shapes running down it, in shades of gold and brown
Vase 1901-1905 / THF163599

Short, wide vase in shades of brown with inscribed pattern of lines and three handles
Favrile Vase circa 1899 / THF163603

By 1900, Louis Comfort Tiffany had transformed the Art Glass Movement, begun in the 1880s, into a much broader and more international trend. Working with his patented “Favrile” glass, which diffuses light on the surface into a shimmering, or iridescent effect, Tiffany transformed the glass world.

Clear glass vase with mottled amber pattern and urn-shape
Loetz Vase 1900–1910 / THF166027

Working with Samuel Bing, the leader of the Art Nouveau movement in Paris, Tiffany became internationally renowned. European competitors like Loetz Art Glass, in what was then part of the Austrian Empire, took inspiration from Tiffany, and he, likewise took inspiration from them.

Iridescent glass leaf-shaped dish in with curved handle; amber in color
Sweetmeat Dish 1903–1930 / THF163634

Low, round glass bowl; white on outside, iridescent amber/gold on inside
Aurene Bowl 1915–1930 / THF163625

Tiffany also faced rivals in the American market. The most famous of these was the Steuben Glass Works, of Corning, New York, whose “Aurene” iridescent wares were almost indistinguishable from Tiffany’s own work.

Elaborate blue and gold iridescent punchbowl and 6 cups
Punch Bowl 1910–1925 / THF34968

Iridescent glass was extremely popular in the years between 1890 and 1920. Late Victorian era Americans were obsessed with showing off their good taste and wealth to family, friends, and neighbors. Conspicuous consumption and ostentatious materialism were bedrock beliefs in Victorian society. Glass for decoration was an important part of the Victorian interior, whether one was wealthy or of modest means. Both Tiffany and Steuben products were expensive, so other glass companies filled the void with lower-end wares. The punch bowl set above was made by the Northwood Glass Company of Wheeling, West Virginia, and would have been a prized possession in a moderate-income home. Known by collectors as “Carnival Glass,” it is also referred to as “Poor Man’s Tiffany.”

Tiffany and Art Deco


Glass sculpture of face with hair stylized into a dramatic fan backwards, atop silver base/mount
Victoire Hood Ornament 1928–1930 / THF168531

Following World War I, tastes began changing. The devastation of the war in Europe and the concurrent crumbling of monarchies and old social orders led society on both sides of the Atlantic to search for something new, something modern, and something different in their décor. By the mid-1920s, this led to a new, geometric style that we call Art Deco. Where Art Nouveau featured organic shapes seen in the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his contemporaries, Art Deco embraced the machine and geometric aesthetics. A good example of this is the “Victoire” hood ornament made by Rene Lalique, who had worked in the Art Nouveau style in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Stained glass sign in red, orange, and green, with white text "White Castle," with other items visible in background
Stained Glass White Castle Sign, 1930s / THF101929

Tiffany Studio’s work remained rooted in Art Nouveau and sales plummeted in the 1920s. The Great Depression was the end for Tiffany. As one scholar noted, Tiffany lamps, vases, and decorative objects became fodder for tag and rummage sales in the 1930s and 1940s. Throughout this period there were lingering influences of Tiffany’s windows and aesthetic, as this stained-glass White Castle Hamburger sign shows.

The Tiffany Revival in the 1950s and 1960s


Following World War II, a flickering of interest in Tiffany’s artistry emerged in a number of museums. The Morse Gallery of Art in Winter Park, Florida, was one of the first museums to re-evaluate the contributions of Tiffany to American culture. In 1955, they organized Works of Art by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the first solo exhibition of Tiffany since his lifetime. Other museums, including Henry Ford Museum, began collecting Tiffany objects as early as 1954.

By 1959, the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York included Tiffany glass in their modern design gallery and produced a groundbreaking exhibit, Art Nouveau: Art and Design at the Turn of the Century. This reappraisal led to the beginning of new scholarship on Tiffany and a broader market for art glass among collectors from the 1960s onward.

The Revival of Tiffany in Popular Culture


Red peace symbol on black background
Black Light Poster Featuring a Peace Sign, about 1968 / THF176507

"Psychedelic" style poster in shades of brown and red featuring text and image of band
Concert Poster for Electric Flag American Music Band, Moby Grape, and Steve Miller Blues Band at The Fillmore, 1967 / THF125134

Poster featuring nude woman and text, in shades of pink, yellow, and blue
Concert Tour Poster Blank, The Rolling Stones in Concert, 1969 / THF267787

The revival of interest in Tiffany’s work and in Art Nouveau in general comes into vogue through the counterculture of the 1960s. Many of this younger generation were called “hippies,” who sought out new directions in material culture. In this they referenced historicism, Victorianism, and just about anything that rebelled against the prevailing minimalism of mid-century modernism. So the highly decorative and organic qualities of Favrile glass appealed to them.

Bright pink button with image of long-haired woman holding flowers and text "Summer of Love"
"Summer of Love" Button, circa 1967 / THF175160

Their self-described haven was in San Francisco, which became famous for its “Summer of Love” in 1967. This button uses calligraphic script with a female figure drawn in an Art Nouveau style.

The Diffusion of Tiffany into the Mainstream: 1970–1990


Sheet with image of Victorian man and woman holding hands at a table; also contains text
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor Menu, circa 1971 / from Seattle Public Library Special Collections Online

Card with Victorian man and woman holding hands at a table; also contains text, address, and postal cancellation
Card with drawing of stylized people on left side; text about different types of parties on the right side
Two Farrell’s images above courtesy of Patrick Pehoski

As the 1970s dawned, the sense of nostalgia evoked by “hippie” culture began to come into mainstream material culture. One of the first ways this occurred was through “old-fashioned” ice cream parlors. One of the first of these to become mainstream was Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant. Founded in Portland, Oregon, in 1963, Farrell’s spread to approximately 120 locations by 1975. Each restaurant was designed to look like the 1910 era, complete with Tiffany hanging lamps and waiters and waitresses in period costumes.

Elaborately decorated Victorian-style ice cream parlor with small marble tables and wire chairs
Eurich’s Ice Cream Parlor, Dearborn, Michigan, 1960s / THF147849

Stained glass lamp in shades of white, green, and red, with white cursive text "Coca-Cola"
Coca-Cola Chandelier, circa 1900, from Eurich’s Ice Cream Parlor, Dearborn, Michigan / THF7029

The postcard image above of Eurich’s Ice Cream parlor, formerly located in Dearborn, Michigan, shows an iconic view of the “old-fashioned” look, complete with a leaded hanging pendant Coca-Cola lamp, now in our collections.

By the early 1970s, Tiffany became more than a name—it became a style. At this time, “Tiffany” lamps were at the height of their popularity (like, for example, this lamp in the Tiffany style, made by Loevsky and Loevsky, about 1975).

Gold-fringed white flag with rounded star in red, white, and blue and text "American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976"
United States Bicentennial Flag, circa 1976 / THF171693

Upright telephone decorated with stripes and stars, in red, white, and blue
United States Bicentennial Telephone circa 1976 / THF325912

With the United States Bicentennial in 1976, Americans became even more enamored with the nostalgia of the American past. This led companies like Wendy’s restaurants to emphasize their “old-fashioned” hamburgers and fill their early restaurants with bent-wood chairs and Tiffany-style stained glass lighting. Throughout the early 1980s, this nostalgia continued, although over the course of the decade, it began to wane.

What Happened to the Tiffany Style?


Long peach-colored cassette player and radio with antenna
Sharp QT 50 Portable Radio Cassette Player, 1986 / THF88088

By the late 1980s, the Baby Boom generation that created the nostalgia fad of the 1970s had furnished their homes and were aging, while a new generation, seeking new decorative influences, came of age. This younger demographic found the “old-time” nostalgia of their elders somewhat stifling, preferring new sources, such as this Sharp brand radio cassette player, which derives its historical sources from the 1930s and 1950s. In turn, this trend known as “new age” or postmodernism, came and went by the early 1990s, as tastes changed again with generations.


Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

art, by Charles Sable, home life, design, popular culture, glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany

Deborah Sussman began her design career as an intern at the Eames Office in 1953.  There, over the course of a decade, she was promoted to an art director and worked on graphic design, exhibitions, films, toy design, packaging, and photography. In 1963, she acted as designer for the “Beware of Imitations” image below, with Charles and Ray Eames as creative directors. Appearing as an advertisement in Arts & Architecture magazine, it celebrated Eames-designed furniture produced by Herman Miller. The image is a fascinating herald, hinting at how Sussman’s approach toward the power of large-scale graphics to communicate within environments would define her future vision.

Page with background of brick wall in black-and-white topped with "poster" of chairs in black and white and text and pointing hand icons in red
Herman Miller “Beware of Imitations” Advertisement. / THF147716

The foundation image was printed to poster size and affixed to the outside wall of the Eames Office, where it was photographed in situ. The weathered brick wall, scrabbly Californian plant life, and spray-painted stencil additions surrounding the paste-up add texture to the image, revealing it to be evidence of a process. An image at the Library of Congress takes us one step further into this moment, revealing Sussman pasting up the original work.  

Black-and-white image of flowers and text "ZEELAND, MICHIGAN" against brick wall on left; on right images of people and chairs and red pointing finger icons
Detail. / THF147716

If you look closely toward the bottom left of this image, you will also see a bouquet of flowers on a placard with the text, “Zeeland, Michigan.” Zeeland is, of course, home to the Herman Miller company, but the floral design has its own interesting lifespan. It appears on Herman Miller’s stock certificates and on the underside of a kiosk designed by the Eames Office for the IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Sussman is credited with contributing to both projects. 

Colorful tent-like structure with thin poles supporting a colorful roof and topped with flags
Kiosk from the IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. / THF156766

Image of flowers in a white rectangle, surrounded by taupe, blue, and white geometric shapes highlighted with pinstriping
Detail of the underside of the IBM Kiosk. / THF171121

Sussman left the Eames Office temporarily to continue her design studies through a Fulbright scholarship in Germany, but was eventually “lured back” to California to work on the Mathematica exhibit. When The Henry Ford acquired the 1964 version of the Mathematica exhibit (now on permanent view in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation), extensive research was undertaken in the Charles & Ray Eames Papers at the Library of Congress to create the most historically accurate version of the exhibit possible. Photographs at the Library of Congress documented numerous contributions made by women to the exhibit’s design, including Sussman, Ray Eames, and many others. Sussman, for her part, once recounted setting the type for the mathematician biographies that appear on the History Timeline and also appears in a photograph working on the graphics for the base of the Multiplication Cube interactive.

Image with colorful graphics, drawings, and text
Detail of the Multiplication Cube from the Eames Office-designed Mathematica exhibit. / THF164150

Busy panel with many strips of text and images
Detail of the History Timeline in Mathematica. / THF170845

In 1968, Sussman formed an independent design practice as Sussman/Prejza & Co. with her husband, Paul. Together they designed things like the “urban branding” for the cities of Long Beach and Santa Monica, California, and wayfinding signage for Walt Disney World and EuroDisney. Her favorite kind of work involved vibrant, larger-than-life graphic and typographic treatments installed in architectural spaces and outdoor urban areas. For this work, she is credited as a pioneer of “environmental design” and “Supergraphics.”

Page with text, colorful graphics, and photo of people playing instruments in front of a colorful backdrop or grandstand
Design Preview / Brand Identity Guidelines for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. / THF287946

This approach is especially obvious in her design identity work for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The look and feel of the LA Olympics—created by Sussman/Prejza & C0. in collaboration with the Jerde Partnership—transformed the city of Los Angeles. The holistic plan was for “an energetic montage of color and form [to] appear on everything from tents to tickets.” There were 43 art installations, 28 game venues, 3 Olympic villages, and wayfinding signage. There was a monumental 145-foot tower of colorful scaffolding erected in Exposition Park. Color-coded gateways and walkways lined with concrete “Sonotubes” wrapped in bright abstract graphics. Uniforms for officials and volunteers.

Colorful page with large graphic characters "L A 8 4"
Design Quarterly #127. / THF287955

Large colorful tower with decorative scaffolding and images of stars, geometric shapes, and Olympic rings
Detail from Design Quarterly #127. / THF287972

An entire issue of Design Quarterly was dedicated to the project, in which the designers explained their hopes for a successful event as “a modern environment that recalls the imageable qualities of a medieval jousting festival” and one that anticipated that “the city will be transformed overnight, as if an invasion of butterflies has descended upon it.”

White banner with colorful graphic characters "L A 8 4" and additional text "WELCOME" and "OLYMPICS"
Souvenir Street Banner designed by Deborah Sussman for the LA 1984 Olympics. / THF171692

Color played an essential role in unifying the visual language of color, graphics, and typographic treatments. Notably, Sussman broke away from the palette of traditional red, white, and blue, and captured the “Southern California spirit” through shades of vibrant magenta, vermillion, aqua, purple, and sunset orange. A favorite quote in the Design Quarterly issue states: “The glorious colors—the banners, the kiosks and booths, even the trash cans and hot dog napkins—were happily original, all Toyland confetti, in light and airy shades all their own. We get enough of red-white-and-blue everywhere else, don’t we?”

Partial credit to Sussman’s approach can be connected to her early training at the Eames Office, where her mentors emphasized the value of playfulness. There, she had the opportunity to document festivals in other countries. She learned to appreciate folk art and the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Rim. And the “kit of parts” approach to design was part of everyday life at the Eames Office too, which undoubtedly influenced Sussman’s own adaptable “visual alphabet” for the 1984 LA Olympics. Today, her contributions for this and other projects stand as beloved and masterful examples of environmental graphic design. Like many designers who passed through the Eames Office, Deborah Sussman took what she learned, remixed it, and made it an evolved and color-saturated language all her own.


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, Herman Miller, women's history, design, sports, by Kristen Gallerneaux, #THFCuratorChat

This is the second of a series of blog posts presented in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. The exhibit, consisting of approximately 60 artifacts, is on view at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from March 6, 2021, through April 25, 2021. All of the objects shown here are from the collections of The Henry Ford and provide background on themes in the exhibition.

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glass is part of a larger group that scholars and collectors call Art Glass. Art Glass is generally defined as ornamental and decorative glass dating from the mid-to-late 19th century through the early 20th century. Makers of Art Glass employed newly developed technologies for producing vibrant colors and surface textures. The work of Tiffany is undoubtedly the most well-known, but the beginnings of Art Glass predate Tiffany’s glass work by nearly a decade.

Nineteenth-century Americans were obsessed with showing off their good taste and wealth to family, friends, and neighbors. Conspicuous consumption and ostentatious materialism were bedrock beliefs in Victorian society. Glass for decoration was an important part of the Victorian interior, whether one was wealthy or of modest means. Art Glass, which was less expensive than cut glass, allowed middle-class Americans an opportunity to decorate with style.

Glass vase with slightly indented sides and a diamond-patterned texture, yellow at bottom morphing to dark red at top
Amberina Vase, 1883-1890 / THF163614

Orange and yellow glass kerosene lamp
Kerosene Lamp, circa 1880 / THF167773

Scholars consider the most successful early Art Glass a product line called “Amberina,” first made by the New England Glass Company (later the Libbey Glass Company) in 1883. It was extremely popular and was widely imitated. Amberina was a relatively simple technique, known to glass makers but only exploited in the 1880s. The glass, which ranges from amber at the bottom to red at the top, is colored with a heat-sensitive gold additive. This shading results from reheating the top part of the glass before allowing it to cool.

Art Glass Goes Big: The Morgan Vase and Its Impact


Vase with round body and long, thin neck, morphing in color from yellow at the bottom through orange and red to dark red at the top
Peachblow Vase, circa 1886 / THF163612

Glass pear in shades of yellow and dark orange
Peachblow Pear Whimsey, circa 1886 /
THF163610

In 1886, an 18th-century Chinese porcelain was part of a highly publicized New York auction of the collection of socialite Mary Morgan. The vase, reputed to be the finest of its kind, sold for a record of $18,000. This unprecedented price made headlines, and soon enterprising glass and ceramic makers began to produce replicas of the vase. First known as “Morgan” vases after Mary Morgan, and later as “Peachblow,” these wares made Art Glass overwhelmingly popular with the public and highly profitable for many firms. Peachblow glass, like Amberina, ranges in colors from dark red to yellow. The most famous maker of Peachblow was J.H. Hobbs, Brockunier, and Company of Wheeling, West Virginia, whose colorations closely imitated the famous “Morgan” Vase.

Glass with gold marbled pattern, morphing in color from beige at the bottom to dark pink at the top
Agata Tumbler, 1887 / THF163607

The New England Glass Company quickly produced a line called “Agata,” whose color and surface texture closely resembled that of the famous Morgan vase. Agata was difficult to produce and was only made for several years. The New England Glass Company also produced their own version of Peachblow, which they called “Wild Rose,” and collectors call “New England Peachblow.”

Two glass vases with rounded bodies and long, thin necks, morphing in color from white at the bottom to dark pink at the top
Peachblow Vases, 1885-1888 / THF163629

Glass pear with white color on one side morphing to pink on the other
Peachblow Pear Whimsey, 1880-1890 / THF163609

Mount Washington Glass Company Emerges


Opaque glass cup-shaped vase, with color morphing from yellow at the bottom to rust at the topBurmese Vase, 1885-1895 / THF163618

Round glass container with "salt shaker" type top and raised pattern of flowers, in shades of cream and peach

Burmese Caster, 1885-1895 / THF167758

The most versatile of Art Glass producers was the Mount Washington Glass Company, located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Although they created some of the very first Art Glass in the 1870s, they made their name with a line called “Burmese,” first patented in 1885. Like Amberina, Burmese ranges in shades from yellow at the bottom to a pale pink at the top of the piece. Unlike Amberina, it is always opaque. It was produced in both smooth and satin finishes, decorated and undecorated.


Ecru-colored vase with wide body and thin neck, decorated with floral pattern in shades of beige and brown
Crown Milano Vase, 1888-1893 / THF163595

Beige vase with intricate top and pattern of pansies and swirls
Crown Milano Vase, 1889-1891 / THF125954

With the success of the Burmese line, Mount Washington Glass Company produced even more ornate lines. They followed up Burmese with their “Crown Milano” line, which featured exotic-looking forms with ornate surface decorations. These would fit perfectly into the décor of an eclectic, late 19th-century American parlor or sitting room.

Glass vase with gold body with floral pattern and twisted white neck
Royal Flemish Vase, circa 1890 / THF162343

For me, the ultimate in Mount Washington’s ornate Art Glass was their “Royal Flemish” line, dating to the 1890s. The satin glass body is covered with floral gilt decoration and the neck features swirled decoration, culminating in a gold ring at the top.

Tiffany Jumps In


Iridescent glass container with s-shaped swirls, with color morphing from blue at the bottom to gold at the top
Favrile Toothpick Holder, circa 1895 / THF165617

Thin red glass vase with "peacock feather" pattern in muted blues
Favrile Vase, 1901-1915 / THF163631

It was in this environment that Louis Comfort Tiffany started creating Art Glass. In the early 1890s, Tiffany developed a process to imitate the iridescent shimmer of ancient, weathered glass. He patented the process in 1894, which he called “Favrile.” Unlike other Art Glass makers, Tiffany was renowned for creating elegant, yet simple, products as well as grand, large-scale objects like stained glass windows and even interior environments.

Bronze and green glass candelabrum with holders shaped like buds
Candelabrum, 1903-1919 / THF163661

Tiffany often mixed media, such as the bronze and glass candelabrum above. The sinuous and organic forms are closely related to the international Art Nouveau style, which reached its height of popularity around 1900.

GIF rotating through several images and detail shots of a bronze floor lamp with domed glass shade in mottled greens and yellows
Floor Lamp, about 1900 / THF186205, THF186208, THF186219, THF186215, THF186218

Around 1900, Tiffany started making large scale floor lamps—the one above is one of his first efforts. The fish scale–like shade is composed of his signature Favrile glass, which glows when illuminated. The bronze base features undulating spirals which rise through the lamp’s shaft. The kerosene reservoir is covered with organic S- or wave-like patterns, all of which derive from Tiffany’s Art Nouveau vocabulary.

Bronze table lamp with glass shade with pattern of green and yellow daffodils
Electric Table Lamp, 1903–1920 / THF167923

This nature-themed "Daffodil" lamp is the first design attributed to Clara Driscoll, who led the Women’s Glass Cutting Department at Tiffany Studios. Driscoll designed many now-iconic leaded-glass lamps for Tiffany. Driscoll took iridescent Art Glass a step further, echoing nature—in this case daffodils, which she studied in detail while designing this lamp.

Tiffany’s Rivals


White glass vase with stem widening out from narrow at bottom to a crenellated flower shape opening at top; inside is iridescent blue
Aurene Vase, circa 1920 / THF162344

Dark blue iridescent dish with wide rim and shallow depression in center
Aurene Plate, 1920-1929 / THF166928

By the turn of the 20th century, Tiffany’s iridescent Art Glass faced competitors. Foremost among them was the Steuben Company of Corning, New York. “Aurene” was the name that Frederick Carder used for his iridescent Art Glass. When Aurene was first produced, around 1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany sued Carder for copyright infringement. The courts found in favor of Frederick Carder, and Steuben’s Aurene competed with Tiffany’s Favrile glassware. The elegant, floral-shaped vase above combines a cased white outer shell with a dark blue iridescent interior, and may be easily confused with Tiffany’s work.

Two trumpet-shaped lampshades in iridescent gold, one laying on side and one upright
Lampshades, 1905-1910, Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company / THF167597

Like Frederick Carder’s Steuben, Quezal features iridescent glass similar to Tiffany’s Favrile. Also like Steuben, Quezal was founded in 1902 in Brooklyn, New York, by a group of Tiffany’s former employees. They produced some of the most vibrant iridescent colors of any of Tiffany’s competitors.

Wide blue glass vase with straight sides and wide opening, with pattern of lines running around it
Vase, 1924-1931 / THF166015

Glass goblet with clear or slightly greenish base and stem, and pattern on body of white and red arcs changing to solid red at top
Goblet, 1924-1931 / THF167600

One of the most interesting of Tiffany’s competitors was Durand Art Glass of Vineland, New Jersey. Founded at the end of the 19th century, the company developed a distinctive style of Art Glass. By the mid-1920s, they hired workers from the Quezal Art Glass Company, which had recently disbanded. They also hired a glass artist named Emil Larson, who had worked for several Art Glass firms and brought his distinctive feather design to Durand Art Glass.

The End of Art Glass


Wine glass with clear base and long stem topped by small body of sea green with striped pattern
Favrile Wine Glass, 1918-1924 / THF167662

Clear glass plate with radial pattern of sea green and transparent color
Favrile Plate, 1918-1924 / THF163653

In 1919, Louis Comfort Tiffany retired and turned his Tiffany Studios over to Arthur Nash, who continued the firm until it closed in 1933. These pieces were designed by Nash and marketed as Favrile glass. Nash maintained the high quality of Tiffany’s output, but times and tastes had changed following World War I. Art Glass was viewed as old-fashioned and part of the Victorian past.

One Last Gasp


Glass dish with thick transparent glass base and stem, topped with wide, shallow white glass bowl with swirling yellow-green pattern
Compote, 1931-1935 / THF166002

Following the demise of Tiffany Studios, Arthur Nash was hired by the Libbey Glass Company to design their “New Era” glass line. This ill-fated line was beautiful, but was considered old-fashioned during the early 1930s. This was also the beginning of the Great Depression, so sales were minimal and the line was discontinued by 1935.


Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

design, Louis Comfort Tiffany, home life, Henry Ford Museum, glass, by Charles Sable, art

This is the first of a series of blog posts presented in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. The exhibit, consisting of approximately 60 artifacts, is on view at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from March 6, 2021, through April 25, 2021. All of the objects shown here are from the collections of The Henry Ford and provide background on themes in the exhibition.

In the 1890s, artists and designers in Europe and the United States attempted to create a modern aesthetic for the emerging 20th century. This aesthetic was consciously modern. The decorative style that emerged, Art Nouveau, featured bold color contrasts and organic lines, sometimes flowing gracefully and sometimes sharply undulating, like a whiplash. Artists and designers associated with this trend looked to nature as their guide. As they often said, there is nothing historical about nature, it is universal.

Decorative pattern of leaves and flowers, with decorative text EMILIE
Bookplate Designed by Rene Lalique for Emilie Grigsby, 1890-1905 / THF291251

This bookplate, created by French designer Rene Lalique, is derived almost purely from nature, although the floral forms are abstracted into sinuous and linear elements that we associated with French Art Nouveau of the 1890s and early 1900s. Even the letters of the name, “Emilie,” are rendered into organic shapes.

One person walks behind another person on a horse on a snowy road with trees in the background
Japanese Travelers in a Snow Storm, 1900-1929/ THF292633

Increased communication and trade with Asia in the second half of the 19th century brought new design inspiration to Europe. Japanese woodblock prints particularly appealed to Art Nouveau poster and decorative designers, who incorporated asymmetry and contrasting colors in their own work. Notice the unmodulated areas of light colors against dark colors, which create pictorial depth.

Woman sitting in a garden looks at flowers and a butterfly; contains text
Bookplate of Georges Goury, 1900-1910/ THF291287

A major element of the Art Nouveau style, the sensual female figure was popularized by French poster artists like Jules Cheret and Alphonse Mucha. The illustrator of this Art Nouveau bookplate placed a woman at the center, used diagonal lines to create an illusion of depth (a technique derived from Japanese prints), and added stylized botanical motifs to frame the image.

Stylized image of woman holding sheaf of wheat and corn, with subtle images of turkey and greenery in the background; also contains text
Harper's Bazar Thanksgiving, Number 1895 / THF292639

Art Nouveau in America came first as imported graphic art printed in Europe for an international audience. American illustrators, like the young Will Bradley, adapted these design elements for their illustrations in magazines and advertising posters. This poster promotes the Thanksgiving issue of the magazine Harper’s Bazar (which would later become Harper’s Bazaar) and appeared on newsstands in American cities from coast to coast. This poster is full of harvest and Thanksgiving symbols: the sheaf of wheat and the subtle turkey, suggesting the bounty of the season. The Art Nouveau elements include the organic whiplash floral forms and the female figure predominating the scene.

Iridescent blue and gold glass cup with dimensional s-shaped swirls on bottom
Favrile Toothpick Holder, circa 1895 / THF165617

In the 1890s, American designer Louis Comfort Tiffany developed a process to imitate the iridescent shimmer of ancient, weathered glass. His "Favrile" line of art glass included organic forms characteristic of the Art Nouveau style, sometimes featuring abstract ornamentation, such as the design on this toothpick holder.

Narrow red vase with blue-and-red abstracted "peacock feather" pattern on bottom
Favrile Vase, 1901-1915 / THF163631

Tiffany’s small vase expresses the Art Nouveau trademark element of the peacock feather, which, like many Art Nouveau elements, has its roots in European design. Tiffany was renowned in America and Europe for developing the Art Nouveau into elegant, yet simple, products, as well as grand, large-scale objects like stained glass windows and elaborate electric lighting.

Bronze candelabrum with six green bud-shaped sconces
Candelabrum, 1903-1919 / THF163661

Louis Comfort Tiffany gained international acclaim, exhibiting his work in metal, glass, and jewelry alongside European Art Nouveau designers in Paris as early as 1895. The sinuous, plant-like design of this high-end glass and metal Tiffany candelabrum exemplifies the Art Nouveau style.

Tiffany Studios made a great variety of candleholders for upper middle-class clients. This model is described in the 1906 catalogue as simply, "6 lights, in a row, extinguisher on stem." The customer could choose from 11 designs of "candlestick tops," or standard interchangeable sockets, that were listed and priced separately. These included "long" or "short" metal or glass and metal tops in a variety of forms.

GIF that cycles through several images and detail shots of a bronze floor lamp with bronze and glass shade.
Floor Lamp, about 1900 / THF186205, THF186208, THF186219, THF186215, THF186218

Around 1900, Tiffany started making large scale floor lamps—this is one of his first efforts. The fishscale-like shade is composed of his signature Favrile glass, which glows when illuminated. The bronze base features undulating spirals which rise up through the lamp’s shaft. The kerosene reservoir is covered with organic S- or wave-like patterns, all of which derive from Tiffany’s Art Nouveau vocabulary.

Lamp with bronze base and stem and stained glass shade featuring daffodils
Electric Table Lamp, 1903-1920/ THF167923

Louis Comfort Tiffany became known for applying Art Nouveau aesthetics to lighting products. This nature-themed "Daffodil" lamp is the first design attributed to Clara Driscoll, who led the Women’s Glass Cutting Department at Tiffany Studios. Driscoll designed many now-iconic leaded-glass lamps for Tiffany.

White vase, widening from thin base to flattened, flower-shaped top, which is iridescent blue inside
Aurene Vase, circa 1920 / THF162344

“Aurene” was the name that Frederick Carder used for his iridescent art glass at the Steuben Glass Works in Corning, New York. When Aurene was first produced, around 1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany sued Carder for copyright infringement. The courts found in favor of Frederick Carder and Steuben’s Aurene competed with Tiffany’s Favrile glassware. This elegant, floral-shaped vase combines a cased white outer shell with a dark blue iridescent interior and comes directly from the Art Nouveau vocabulary found in Tiffany’s production.

Silver pitcher with swirling decorative images, including octopus
Martele Pitcher, 1898-1905 / THF129337

Like Steuben, the Gorham Silver Company of Providence, Rhode Island, produced its own line of Art Nouveau–inspired wares. Called Martele, meaning hand-hammered, this was one of Gorham’s high-end lines. This pitcher shows an organic swirl of motion, presumably sea water, with an octopus placed asymmetrically across the surface.

Brown pebbled leather handbag with elaborate silver clasp with a peacock in the center and a silver chain
Handbag, circa 1900 / THF175168

By the turn of the century, well-heeled consumers could choose from an array of luxury goods in the Art Nouveau style. This handbag features classic Art Nouveau motifs: botanical elements, curved lines, and a peacock, whose fanned tail feathers dominate the center of the design.

Black, red, and beige floral-patterned rug
Wilton Rug, circa 1900 / THF175015

In the first decade of the 20th century, the Art Nouveau style began to filter through many levels of American society. This Wilton rug is a good example, as it features characteristic elements of Art Nouveau design: striking color combinations, undulating "whiplash" lines, and stylized botanical motifs.

Cover with image of building, elaborate decorative pattern, and text
"Electrical Apparatus and Supplies for Isolated Plants," June 2, 1902 / THF267443

The explosion of the electrical industry in the 1890s generated new design needs. Electrical corporations hired artists working in the style of the day—Art Nouveau—to design their buildings, products, and communications. These partnerships marked the beginnings of industrial design.

Bar of soap wrapped in blue paper with decorative blue elements and yellow-orange oval and text
Sterne's Deodorizing Toilet Soap, 1900-1915 / THF175155

Art Nouveau reached its peak of popularity in 1900, but American manufacturers incorporated echoes of the style in products and product packaging into the 1910s. The Art Nouveau styling of the label for this everyday product—a bar of soap—would have appealed to many consumers.

By 1914, the Art Nouveau style was considered old-fashioned. Most European and American designers had moved on with their work. Tiffany was the rare exception. Tiffany Studios continued producing Art Nouveau–inspired lamps, vases, desk sets, and windows through the 1920s. Tiffany retired from day-to-day management in the early 1920s. It took until the Great Depression struck in 1929, and Tiffany’s death in 1933, for the firm to cease production.


Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

nature, Henry Ford Museum, Louis Comfort Tiffany, design, home life, glass, by Charles Sable, art

Two minimalistic early cars with a driver in each on dirt track with fence and grass in background

In his first race ever, Henry Ford beat Alexander Winton in the Sweepstakes Race. / THF94819

On October 10, 1901, Henry Ford made history by overcoming the favored Alexander Winton in his first-ever automobile race. Backed by a willingness to take risks and an innovative engine design, Henry  earned the reputation and financial backing through this one event to start Henry Ford Company, his second car-making venture.

His success that day is a natural introduction display for our newest permanent exhibition, Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors. Driven to Win celebrates over 100 years of automotive racing achievements and the people behind the passion for going fast. 

Early minimal race car in the mid-distance on a dirt track with a fence and grass behind it
Photos of the 1901 race provide a view of the environment that written accounts don’t. / THF123903

In creating an exhibition, we start with many experience goals. In this case, one exhibition goal is to take our guests behind-the-scenes and trackside. As you experience Driven to Win, you’ll find many of the vehicles displayed on scenic surfaces and in front of murals that represent the places the cars raced. Henry Ford’s Sweepstakes Race took place on a horse racing track in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Through reference photos and discussions with our exhibit fabrication partner, kubik maltbie, artisans created a surface that captures the loose dirt quality of a horse racing track. If you look closely, you’ll see hoof prints alongside tire tracks, which capture the unique location of this race.

Tiles that look almost like carpet samples, but visually appear similar to dirt
kubik maltbie’s artists created a variety of samples to find the most accurate dirt display surface that’s also suitable for use in a museum setting.

Dirt-looking surface with tire tracks and hoofprints built in; part of tire visible in corner of photo
Look closely and you can see evidence of horses having raced on the same track.

The next component in bringing this race to life needed to illustrate what the day was like. It also needed to convey the most exciting part—when Henry Ford overtook his competition. Working with a local artist, Glenn Barr, we created a background mural depicting Henry’s rival being left in the dust. To do this, we returned to available reference photos showing the track, grandstand, and Henry’s rival, Alexander Winton, who was the country’s most well-known racer at this time.

Sketch of car on track with fences on either side, grandstands in background, clouds of smoke rising from it
Car on dirt track with clouds of smoke behind it, fences on both sides of track and grandstands in the background
Sketches and small-scale paintings allowed Glenn Barr and the design team to discuss components of the mural before the final painting was created.

Glenn created a series of early sketches to make sure we had all the important elements. We then took those sketches and added them to our 3D model of the exhibition. This allowed us to pre-visualize the entire display from all angles, and verify we had the correct perspective in the mural. Color plays a big part in creating this scene with a certain mood. The goal was a color palette that felt like 100+ years ago, but also like we were watching the race. Glenn created a series of color samples that allowed us to find the right combinations.

Rendering of car on ramp with toy cars nearby and images and outlines of people nearby
Programs like Sketchup allow us to easily create exhibit spaces in three-dimensions so that we can study sightlines and relationships between exhibit elements.

Man sits in early open race car, with another man crouching on running board
While this photo was posed, likely to commemorate the race win, Henry Ford and Ed “Spider” Huff’s postures are confirmed from other photos, and this one provides clearer details. / THF116246

The last element in creating our day-of-the-race display was perhaps the most important—Henry Ford and his ride-along mechanic, Ed “Spider” Huff, themselves. Again, reference photos are vital tools in seeing the past. In creating these mannequins we had three key elements to address: Henry and Spider’s likenesses, the clothing they wore, and the postures they’d have sitting in the vehicle. kubik maltbie’s artists were able to capture this moment. They started with clay sculptures of Henry and Spider’s faces.

Head of man with mustache
Head of man with receding hairline, mustache
Henry Ford and Ed “Spider” Huff’s likenesses were captured in life-sized clay sculptures that would later be used to create molds for the finished mannequins.

As these mannequins needed to sit directly in the vehicle, a museum artifact, much of the final sizing, positioning, and decisions on how they interfaced with the car was done away from the actual vehicle. kubik maltbie’s sculptor came to the museum for several days and built a wood frame system around the Sweepstakes. This accurately captured important dimensions and connection points. An exact replica of the steering wheel became a template that sculptors could use in their studio to finalize hand positioning.

If you’ve visited Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford, you’ll have seen that period clothing is one of our specialties. Every spring we distribute over 1,000 sets of handmade attire authentic to many different time periods. With insight from our curators, our Clothing Studio provided period-accurate clothing, from shoes to hats, for Henry and Spider.

Open crate with two human-like figures swaddled in packing material
Henry Ford and Ed “Spider” Huff arrive at the museum.

Three men move a mannequin into place on the running board of a car; another mannequin is inside the car
Museum conservators and the installation team place Ed “Spider” Huff, Henry’s ride-along mechanic, on the Sweepstakes’ running board.

Together, all these elements allow us to take you on a trip back in time. I invite you to visit the museum and see this monumental moment in racing history, stand trackside, and imagine what it must have been like. You can even hear our faithful replica of the “Sweepstakes” running. It sounds nothing like today’s track-ready racing machines.


Wing Fong is Experience Design Project Manager at The Henry Ford.

cars, making, art, design, race car drivers, race cars, collections care, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Wing Fong, racing, Henry Ford, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win

Blue padded table with machinery behind it in a space with tile floor and marble walls (also a window and radiator)
Adult changing table in one of our two new accessible companion-care restrooms.

As for so many others, the year 2020 was not easy for The Henry Ford. The pandemic brought many challenges that we had to face as an institution. Despite those challenges, we remained committed to reaching strategic goals that we had set to improve accessibility and inclusion for all of our guests. Through teamwork and determination, we were able to stay on track toward this commitment.

We are excited to share that we received a three-year grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to support sensory programming initiatives. With this grant, we will be able to expand our current programming and build on what we have learned with new programming for guests with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD). The grant will allow guests to have improved on-site experiences and access to our collections in all of our venues.

Another aspect provided by the grant is free general admission to families of those with ASD and SPD. Two of our special events, Sensory-Friendly Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village and Sensory-Friendly Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, are included. In 2020, we hosted 875 guests for those very popular events.

In addition, we are excited to announce that, within the next year, we are planning to launch a new program for teens and young adults with ASD and SPD that will include activities aimed at social skill-building and networking.

The inclusion of all guests is one of the main pillars of our strategic plan. We believe that this is an important component that will help all guests feel welcome and comfortable on our campus. Because of this, we are expanding training for both current and new staff members. We are developing a module that will use information from the Autism Alliance of Michigan, as well as other organizations, to help our staff become more aware of those with disabilities. As an institution, we understand that it is our responsibility to become more aware of disabilities, as well as how we can modify our unique educational experiences for guests who may need additional support. It is important that guests of all ages, backgrounds and abilities have equal access to the collection and our campus.

Another example of how we are making a more comfortable experience for our guests with disabilities is with the installation of two new accessible companion care restrooms, located at both ends of the main promenade of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Our accessibility specialist, Caroline Braden, partnered with the Madison Center to help design these restrooms. The Madison Center has partnered with The Henry Ford for over 10 years through our Community Outreach Program. The project was supported in part by grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Ford Foundation.

Toilet surrounded by vertical and horizontal grab bars in space with tile floor and marble walls
Toilet in one of our new accessible companion-care restrooms.

The work done on the companion care restrooms goes above and beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The restrooms are barrier-free and include power-operated doors, extra space, and a power-adjustable adult changing table. These tables will be able to accommodate guests with physical and cognitive disabilities. As an institution, we are very proud of this construction, and we are very grateful to those who worked so hard on this essential project.

Caroline Heise is Annual Fund Specialist at The Henry Ford.

by Caroline Heise, The Henry Ford Effect, IMLS grant, Henry Ford Museum, design, accessiblity, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford