February 16, 2007

Tiffany in New York

Louis Comfort Tiffany hits the big time in New York Museums this spring.

First of all at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is an exhibit that began last fall called Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall—An Artist’s Country Estate

here is some promo text from the Met website -

Laurelton Hall, Louis Comfort Tiffany's extraordinary country estate in Oyster Bay, New York, completed in 1905, was the epitome of the designer's achievement and in many ways defined this multifaceted artist. Tiffany designed every aspect of the project inside and out, creating a total aesthetic environment. The exhibition is a window into Tiffany’s most personal art, bringing into focus this remarkable artist who lavished as much care and creativity on the design and furnishing of his home and gardens as he did on all the wide-ranging media in which he worked. Although the house tragically burned to the ground in 1957, the exhibition brings together many of its surviving architectural elements and interior features. In addition, the exhibition features Tiffany's personal collections of his own work—breathtaking stained-glass windows, paintings, glass and ceramic vases—as well as the artist's collections of Japanese, Chinese, and Native American works of art.
Accompanied by a publication.

Also - coming in February 2007 at the New York Historical Society


again, promo text from the NYHS website -

The proposed exhibition will present new information on the designing, production, and marketing of Tiffany lamps gleaned from recently discovered correspondence written by Clara Driscoll, head of the so-called "Women's Glass Cutting Department" at Tiffany Studios. The exhibition will explore the role of the "Tiffany girls"—the 27 women responsible for making Tiffany lamps, windows, mosaics, and other luxury goods—and their talented leader and designer, Clara Driscoll. Anchoring the installation will be approximately 50 Tiffany lamps, windows, ceramics, enamels and mosaics, supplemented by related documents and photographs.

I first heard about this NYHS exhibit when Martin Eidelberg spoke at the St. Louis Art Museum in the spring of 2006. Eidelberg wrote the recent (and highly recommended) book The Lamps of Tiffany. His perspective on Tiffany will not please those who are used to the idea of Tiffany as the Great Master Genius Artist/Designer, since he presents a view of Tiffany as more a businessman than an artist. It will be interesting to see if this sparks any kind of controversy.

Posted by Tom at 07:20 AM

February 08, 2007

Albinas Elskus 1926-2007

A great figure in the world of stained glass has passed away.

A quick google search gave me this biography of Albinas Elskus from the Lithuanian Quarterly of Arts and Sciences. There is also some biographical information and a few images of his windows at St. Gertrude's Cemetery, The Good Shepherd Chapel-Mausoleum, New Jersey on another Lithuanian site.

To me and my generation of stained glass artists he is best known as the author of the book, The Art of Painting on Glass, originally published in 1980 and something of a bible of glass painting for the past 25 years. Certainly the "must have" stained glass book for stained glass artists of my generation. We all refer to it on occasion, for inspiration and for technical advice. It was reprinted a few years ago and yet the book is still scarce and all recent copies of it I've seen go for over $100.

my own copy...

The book came out at an important time in my development as a stained glass artist. I'd been a hobbyist since I was 12. I was 20 and had just started working for my first studio in 1980 when the book was published. I had my own copy soon thereafter.

For the first few years I owned it I mainly referred to 'the book' for technical advice, i.e. what vitreous paint should I use for a warmer tone?, what enamel was best for a good strong transparent pink?, etc.

an example of the 'technical stuff' - paint swatches

Then as time went on I was more inspired by his idea of using 'traditional' techniques in a more creative manner - along the lines of what he did to paint his most noteworthy autonomous works - the apples and the bees.

This 'signature technique' is one where he paints directly with the matting technique, no trace line involved. It is well demonstrated in his book (pages 124-127) and it involves a wet brush application of paint, finger painting to target the highlights and then some skillful badger blending to make it all come thogether - and there it is - the famous 'Albinas Apple'. 13 photographs on 3 pages and you can see the skill of the artist and the joy he took in creating his work.

examples of the 'creative' stuff - from the apple painting demo pages

What I took from this was not so much the desire to paint in his manner so much as it instilled in me the desire to explore the breadth and depth of stained glass technique and to develop my own unique approaches, as he did. It would not be too presumptuous to state that my trying out such things as screenprinting, improvisational design, and even my foray into computer generated stained glass design all stem from this 'experimental' spirit I met with in the pages of Albinas's book.

It is a peculiar aspect of contemporary stained glass that you can admire the work of another stained glass artist without ever having seen one of their works in fact. Such is the case with my admiration for Albinas Elskus. I have never seen one of his windows live and 'in the flesh', so to speak - only through photographs. Yet even from the photographs I've seen a unique body of work that few contemporary stained glass artists have come close to.

My favorite of his windows is the 'Chaney, Schwerner, Goodman' window in Sage Chapel at Cornell University, dedicated in 1991 to the three Civil Rights Workers killed in Mississippi on a voter registration drive in 1964.

This is Albinas Elskus at his best, combining a strong simple structural design that draws attention to the painted faces of the dead Civil Rights Workers. The painting is done in his signature style with a greater emphasis on the tonal matt painting. Even with the 'decorative' surround, there is nothing 'traditional' about this and there is nothing frilly about it either. Just stark full frontal portraits, well befitting the subject matter - as in "These men died for a good cause. Remember these faces!". Social justice is a theme that is rarely tackled in stained glass design, and here it is done in a strong and direct manner, without being overbearing or didactic.

It's one of my favorite windows from the past 20 years, though I know it only from photographs.

I never formally met Albinas Elskus, though I had a chance to thank him for his work in passing when he appeared at a book signing at the SGAA conference in Boston in 2004. It was great to see him and speak those words of admiration though he was already well past his prime after having suffered a stroke in 1993. Still, because of 'the book', I do feel that I continue to be in a kind of dialogue with him - one stained glass artist/enthusiast to another.

On a final note - I've been part of casual discussions among my generational colleagues in stained glass as to who will write the next great book on stained glass painting. That is, who can one-up Albinas Elskus's book. It's a great challenge and a tall mountain to climb. Perhaps his passing will inspire someone to make the effort. I hope someone does take the challenge and I hope they make an even greater and more inspiring book and I know they will only do it because of and in honor of Albinas Elskus.

An obituary can be seen here and here.

Posted by Tom at 07:01 PM

February 03, 2007

Peadar Lamb

Not seen this before.
A nice bold illustrative style.

Paedar Lamb

The Unhappy Passengers II

Posted by Tom at 06:53 PM

Happy Moosemilk Day!

Hello to my friends at the annual gathering in Boston...

From a transfiguration window in St. George's in the Pines
within Banff National Park in Canada.


Posted by Tom at 12:58 PM