All About Glass

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Louis Comfort Tiffany Paperweights

All About Glass

Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, was born in 1848. At the time of Tiffany’s birth his father owned one of the most prestigious jewelry and silver stores in America. Tiffany grew up around the decorative arts and decided to become a painter in 1866 rather than attend university. He studied with George Inness who taught him to combine the use of light, color and nature in his work. Tiffany later became an interior designer. He was widely influenced by his travels, which exposed him to the designs of ancient and medieval glass and inspired him to begin experimenting with the chemistry and techniques of glassmaking.

Detail of Paperweight Vase Louis Comfort Tiffany

Tiffany founded the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company in 1892 and the Stourbridge Glass Company, which eventually became Tiffany Studios, in 1893. Tiffany Studios produced ceramics, metalwork, furniture and jewelry but is best known for their designs of windows, lamps and glass vessels. Through Tiffany’s scientific experimentation with glassmaking he developed new processes, creating a wider range of textures, opalescent sheens and brighter colors. Over a period of 20 years he patented four types of glass. Tiffany’s goal was to bring beauty into the home and to raise the level of decorative arts up to the same status as fine arts. Over the span of his career he evolved from an individual artist to one more and more concerned with art’s application to industry. Tiffany encouraged enthusiasm for beauty in one’s environment. He saw the decorative arts as possibly being even more important than the fine arts because they reached a wider audience.

Paperweight Vase Louis Comfort Tiffany

One type of decorative art object that Tiffany created for the home was his paperweight vases which were made with methods similar to those used for classic paperweights. A richly decorated layer of glass in the form of a vase was encased in a smooth outer layer of glass. The outer layer of glass simultaneously protected the vase’s decoration while magnifying it which accomplished interesting aesthetic effects. The Museum’s collection contains a good example one of Tiffany’s paperweight vases (62.4.15). It was made between 1900 and 1920. Here, Tiffany has attempted to break away from the traditional paperweight form to create new effects. The delicate flowers on this piece and their long, wavy stems seem to be immersed in water that is trapped within the vase. This remarkable technique is the beginning of a whole new concept in paperweight-making.

Tiffany’s vases hold a significant spot within the story of the evolution of the paperweight. With the creation of the first paperweights in 1845, those same encasement techniques were also utilized for the making of other decorative utilitarian objects such as shot glasses, door knobs, decanters, buttons, inkwells and tazzas. These paperweight-like objects were beautiful, but still served a purpose within the household. With his unique and sophisticated paperweight vases Tiffany appears to have taken a major step towards his goal of elevating the paperweight, or paperweight-like object, to the status of a work of fine art.

Published on October 19, 2011