Touring the current exhibit Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection gives me pause and allows me time to reflect on a career spent in craft. As an artist working at a world-class museum, I am afforded a unique opportunity to explore these connections in a variety of ways. Craft, to me, at its core is about connections, whether through the physical touch of an object, the experience of making, or our basic human desire to create. They not only signify our fundamental needs and speak to functionality, but they can also serve to illustrate our thoughts and ideas.
Crafts and human beings have been inextricably tied for eons. Ceramics and textiles are ancient, reaching back to the dawn of civilization. For example, the art of glassblowing dates to 50 BC, starting with the Phoenicians in Mesopotamia. Because of this lineage, I find a deep personal connection to materials and processes. Each has its own language to decode and understand, and therefore, a unique resonance for me. When making work, I look to what materials seem most appropriate—steel speaks a different language than wood, and glass than ceramics, each eliciting a different response from the viewer. The relationship to each material is also directly related to the creative process. I find that these bonds stem not only from the solitude of practice but also from how materials interact when placed together. I am often surprised how similar they all are—like romance languages stemming from Latin, they seem to have a singular focus at their core.
This connectivity has transformed our digital world. For centuries, craft has lived in the guild system of master and apprentice, and this long-standing arrangement has created a path for generations to pass on the skills and traditions of each artist. Today in America, this tradition has primarily been assigned to universities, which are now tasked with the distillation of information from lengthy apprenticeships (glassmaking was a seven-year appointment) to a few short years. However, as a former college faculty member, I witnessed student skills develop rapidly in this digital age. The level of sophistication and awareness that students arrive with is far more advanced than previously, given the rise of social media. Digital communication has shortened the learning curve for young artists in understanding their craft. When viewed as a resource, certain pitfalls of making and unique techniques can be shared and recognized through social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube. No longer are artists islands unto themselves, but part of a global community where information and understanding are at their fingertips. But make no mistake, there is no shortcut for honing skills. Craft will always demand the prolonged communication that an artist has with their chosen medium.
Occasionally, my role at the museum requires me to create exact reproductions for use in programming and I relish the chance to search through the collection with our curators discovering hidden treasures. The opportunity to study artifacts from hundreds of years ago is one I am truly grateful to have. Here, in front of me, are the movements and expressions of each artist left crystallized for me to examine. I think of all the craftspeople that came before me, how their movements transcend time, and their work on display for me to experience in my own way. The craft hasn’t changed, the actions of the artist are still the same—it is the unspoken language of craft, the secret language that makers speak.
Joshua Wojick is Crafts and Trades Program Manager at The Henry Ford. You can see Joshua, along with Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable, walk you through a live demo in Greenfield Village’s Glass Shop on our Facebook page here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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
Black Light Poster Featuring a Peace Sign, about 1968 /THF176507
Concert Poster for Electric Flag American Music Band, Moby Grape, and Steve Miller Blues Band at The Fillmore, 1967 / THF125134
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.
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.
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).
United States Bicentennial Flag, circa 1976 / THF171693
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?
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.
This is the third 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. The lamp shown here is from the collections of The Henry Ford and provides background on themes in the exhibition.
In preparing for the Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection exhibit, The Henry Ford’s curatorial department expressed interest in displaying a Tiffany Studios early floor lamp, circa 1900, from our collections. This lamp features a telescopic shaft and a dual wick kerosene burner for extra illumination.
Our Tiffany lamp (THF186213) as compared to images from Tiffany publications.
In Tiffany publications, the lamp rests on an outer cushion-textured base with six ball-shaped feet. However, the outer base from The Henry Ford’s lamp was missing, with no previous record of its existence when it entered our collection in 1966.
Discussions between Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable and conservators led to the decision to create a replica lamp base to ensure both historical accuracy and physical stability to the tall, rather top-heavy floor lamp. The completed object would provide viewers with a more accurate interpretation and the opportunity to experience the object whole, as it was originally designed.
It’s All about the Base
We embarked upon an effort to locate a similar base in museums or private collections to serve as a reference or pattern, to inform the creation of a replacement base—only to discover that the lamp is quite rare. So instead, I decided to create a model base using a CAD (computer-aided design) program, with the design based on photographs from Tiffany publications and auctions. The museum’s lamp was used as a physical frame of reference for measurements and comparisons in CAD. I reached out to several 3D-printing shops to determine if they could use my CAD design to generate a three-dimensional plastic base. Ultimately, the base was printed with the help and generosity of the additive manufacturing team at the Ford Advanced Manufacturing Center.
The above images are the CAD model of the base from different angles.
Ford Motor Company and its Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) offered their additive manufacturing expertise and capabilities. Their team includes Global Chief Engineer Mike Mikula, Rapid Prototype Subject Matter Expert Scott Gafken, Technical Leader in Additive Manufacturing Harold Sears, Additive Manufacturing Engineer Supervisor Jay Haubenstricke, and Supervisor Additive Manufacturing John Phillips.
Collaborative discussions with Scott Gafken revealed that the process would take about 24 hours, which included printing as well as model cooldown for handling. The EOS P770 was employed as an industrial selective laser sintering (SLS) printer and produced the print in Nylon 12 (also known as Polyamide 12 or PA12). The printing material was selected based on its ability to bear the weight of the lamp, and someday be a candidate for an investment casting, for the creation of a metal base.
The white image shows the Polyamide 12 print of the base at the Ford Advanced Manufacturing Center. The image with painter’s tape was taken during the process of painting the base. Achieving a finish that matched the original metal lamp required the application of several layers of paint. The image with only one small white section shows the completed base after gloss varnish was applied.
The bronze surface of the lamp was shades of brown with hints of red, orange, and green. These shades are similar to several paint colors: raw umber, chromium oxide green, sepia, burnt sienna, and yellow oxides. The colors were mixed into several formulations to closely match the patina (aged finish) of the lamp. Diluted paint was applied in layers to allow the variations in the tones to be seen. After discussions with the curator and members of our Experience Design department, we made the decision to leave one section of 3D-printed surface unpainted, to allow visitors to see it in the exhibit.
The replica base was painted with the actual lamp present to ensure a match.
Beyond the base, other aspects of our conservation treatment included the cleaning of the Tiffany lamp with a bristle brush and vacuum. Wet cleaning included a dilute blend of anionic and nonionic detergents in distilled water, applied with cotton rags and cotton swabs. Residual detergent was then removed with a distilled water wipedown.
A protective barrier of wax was introduced via hot wax application. The bronze surface was heated with a hot air gun and microcrystalline wax was applied and left to cool down. A boar-bristle brush and bamboo picks were used to remove excess wax. The brush and cotton rags were then used to buff the wax layer, resulting in a uniform sheen.
Details of the lamp both before cleaning and after cleaning and wax application.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.