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I once lived in a small town in the United States, which was surrounded by forestland and several lakes. Whenever I drove through the area, I always found the sunlight reflecting off the surface of the lakes and the cool shade underneath the trees to be particularly uplifting. But even that paled when compared to the stunning night landscapes.
There were two stone cabins by the lakeside, with long windows that looked over the water. In the center of one of these hung a stained-glass lamp. The mixture of bright colors together with the fading light at sunset was a vision so stunning that motorists would slow down as they passed by, as if they could sense the warmth and love represented by the glowing light.
A stained-glass lamp has the power to move people with its brilliant design. The art form can be traced back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which was an era renowned for its wonderful Art Nouveau and Art Deco design. In the United States, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was one of the main proponents of the Art Nouveau movement, and stained glass was one of the artistic specialties that brought him the greatest fame. Tiffanys stained glass was also used on doors, windows and elsewhere as a decorative element. Today, major art galleries and auction houses compete for the right to display or sell his stained-glass lamps.
If the offspring of wealthy families are born with a silver spoon in their mouths, then Louis Comfort Tiffany often referred to as LCT own silver spoon was of the most valuable and beautiful kind. His father was Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the high-end US-based jeweler Tiffany & Co.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Paris was still the art center of the world and Charles, who had a well-developed international business sense, opened a branch store there in 1850. He employed a jeweler, Edward C. Moore, to design pieces of silver and precious stones, and a gem specialist, George Frederick Kunz, to appraise and seek out rare American gems. Moore frequently traveled between the stores in Paris and New York, searching for design inspiration and expert craftsmen, and always taking the latest news from European art circles back to the United States with him.
For example, as the world celebrated the opening of the Suez Canal, Middle Eastern and Egyptian styles became popular within the French fashion World. Many young men who, like LCT, had a passion for art, yearned to visit Paris. Moore was like a father to LCT and traveled with him to Paris, passing on his own design experience and his knowledge of Muslim and Eastern art works, which was gathered over many years of research and collecting.
Known as the top American gem specialist Kunz also went to great lengths to teach LCT how to recognize various minerals, especially special stones rarely used by most jewelers and pearls and other precious stones indigenous to the United States.
Moore and Kunz were two of the most important influences on LCT and the development of his interest in art. After joining Tiffany & Co., LCT continued to be surrounded by some of the masters of jewelry design, including, Antonio Salviati, a colored glass mosaic master from Venice and John Curran, who made cloisonne and ceramic art. LCT learned painting in New York and Paris but as a result of his special family background spent his spare time meeting with the best teachers in the jewelry industry, who kept him up to date with the latest developments. In such a situation, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that LCT became interested in design.
In LCT's day, World Fairs were hugely popular, with events held in London, Paris and Vienna. Guided by Moore, Tiffany & Co. received many prestigious awards and attracted much attention. This served as a major source of encouragement to the young LCT and he began to work in many different mediums, experimenting with glass art works and completing his first stained glass window in 1876.
In 1879, LCT and a friend established an interior design company in New York, which for the next 40 years produced classic designs for several hundred public and private organizations and wealthy patrons. He also continued to experiment with stained glass design. In 1893, LCT displayed a piece depicting a small church at the World Fair in Chicago. It was widely praised. After the Fair, LCT won a grand total of 54 awards.
LCT continued to produce Favrile glass vases, which were also well received wherever they were displayed, and other cloisonne, ceramic and bronze art pieces. Utilizing the labor and financial support of Tiffany & Co. he constantly experimented with new art mediums. In 1900, LCT displayed stained glass, mosaic paintings and cloisonne pieces at the Paris World Fair, winning first prize for applied art. In 1902, LCT's father passed away and he took charge of Tiffany & Co., taking over the ownership of the company and serving as Design Supervisor (1902 to 1918). Only then did LCT decide to start designing jewelry himself.
Although many regarded him as a novice, LCT had considerable experience with different artistic media and it was at this point that it all came together. His many years of painting gave him a fine grasp of color theory, which fueled his passionate promotion of the Art Nouveau movement. His jewelry borrowed from the most beautiful shapes found in the natural world: flowers, fruit, insects, fish, birds and animals. The Egyptian, Muslim and Eastern art that Moore had taught LCT also became a great source of creative inspiration. In the same way, the rare minerals, semi-precious stones and American pearls and precious stones that Kunz had introduced were ingeniously utilized with some truly eye-catching results. LCT also incorporated the materials and methods he had become familiar with into his jewelry designs. The rich variety in his pieces showcased a sumptuous and beautiful style that became identified as Art Nouveau and remains a defining characteristic of LCT's oeuvre.
Some people say that LCT's designs created art out of nature and manmade light, of which the best example is his stained-glass pieces. Although his jewelry may not be as famous as the Tiffany Lamp, the pieces were certainly more sophisticated. They were also three-dimensional crystallizations of light and color and the very epitome of fine craftsmanship.
Note: In the 1950's the management of Tiffany & Co. passed out of the hands of the founding family. The new owner had a preference for modernist simple pieces and LCT designs were locked away in the company files and forgotten. In 2002, however, artistic director John Loring discovered and became particularly enamored of these classic designs and wrote a book to celebrate them, Louis Comfort Tiffany at Tiffany & Co published by Abrams. Lorings book discussed in detail LCTs artistic work and is well worth reading for anyone who is interested in the industry .
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