A Stained Glass Mom’s Take on the MAC’s Tiffany Exhibit

click to enlarge Tiffany Studios, Two Vases, 1898-1900. Part of Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. - JOHN FAIER/DRIEHAUS MUSEUM PHOTO

John Faier/Driehaus Museum photo

Tiffany Studios, Two Vases, 1898-1900. Part of Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection.

I grew up in a stained glass household.

Not literally. That would be weird. Horribly insulated. Lets in way too much light. Terribly fragile. Horrible for small children.

But in the most realistic and practical sense, that statement is true. My mom has been a stained glass artist since before I was born. At Kennedy’s Stained Glass in Billings, Mont., she crafts everything from massive church windows to cute glass Christmas ornaments. It’s a colorful world of light that I’ve always been immersed in whether hanging around her shop as a kid, seeing her windows every week at church, or getting my fingers dirty puttying windows.

So naturally, she had to check out the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture’s Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection exhibit when she was visiting Spokane. Now in its final week before closing after Sun,  Feb. 13, the showcase features over 60 pieces from the famed Tiffany Studios.

While it’s certainly an exhibition that anyone can appreciate, I was interested in what my mom’s more discerning eye would be drawn to on the show floor. After all, she’s both the type that wanted her picture taken by the Tiffany banner outside the museum and also casually declined checking out The MAC’s gift shop because,  “I probably already have 10 Tiffany books.”

Treasures from the Driehaus Collection

click to enlarge Landscape Window - PHOTO BY SETH SOMMERFELD

Photo by Seth Sommerfeld

Landscape Window

Out of all the works, the tree-lined Landscape Window sticks out from the pack for her. It’s a massive and exquisite window that pops with an array of glassmaking techniques that a casual observer might overlook. 

The plating, the glass choices, and the colors,” she says, gushing over Landscape. “And there’s fractures and streamers, there’s models, there’s whispies, all kinds of stuff. The variety.”

“You forget how courageous you can be in glass,” she says. “I’m not always. If I were doing that, I wouldn’t think about putting both fractures, streamers, models and stuff in the same tree. I would probably just do one.”

The stained glass artist jargon (as noted above) also becomes a fun topic of exploration. She points out details like streamers (textured glass with a pattern of glass strings affixed to it) in the works before I can even read the placards which explain it to us laypeople. She points out unexplained dimensionality in some windows as copper foil technique. There’s also difference in the jargon; what the exhibit calls “glass plating,” she knows as “laminating” and so on.

Perhaps surprisingly, she’s really drawn to the metal work in a lot of the lamps even more than their glass.

“I think one of the things that I love is how they basically designed the lamp bases,” she says. “It’s all one piece, you know, it’s not just popping [the glass part on top]. Like the tree trunk going into the Wisteria and this little wave thing because it’s an ocean, fish piece. “

click to enlarge Fish and Waves Table Lamp - PHOTO BY SETH SOMMERFELD

Photo by Seth Sommerfeld

Fish and Waves Table Lamp

The standout in this category is said Fish and Waves Table Lamp, with a swirling base inspired by Japanese wave art that holds a very oceanic orange glowing blown-glass orb atop it.

But it’s the Tyler Lamp that literally gets her to exclaim, “Wow… it’s kind of a masterpiece.”  While its glass topper fits in with the traditional Tiffany lamp aesthetic, it’s the base that blows her away. It features a central deco green piece blown to go inside its metal casing, plus four glass balls at its feet, encased in ornate metalwork. “This combination of metalwork and glass is really pretty spectacular.”

click to enlarge Tyler Lamp - PHOTO BY SETH SOMMERFELD

Photo by Seth Sommerfeld

Tyler Lamp

But even as my mom blissfully took in the exhibit, there was always the worker voice popping up in the back of her mind, which occasionally became verbalized. When looking at an glass-jewel-encrusted firescreen her main takeaway is simply,  “Would that be tedious or what?”

There’s also the element of the state of the stained glass industry. Tiffany thrived at the turn of the 1900s, but that’s not the world we live in now. While it’s probably not accurate to say the art form is dying, it’s certainly fading. Over the past decade more and more glass manufacturers have had to shut down. It’s harder to get the raw materials the artists need, and more and more artists are leaving the field because it’s too cost prohibitive, time-consuming, or they’re simply aging into retirement. And it doesn’t appear there’s a young crop of stained glass artist rising up to take their place.

As my mom reads one placard about Tiffany’s staffing she remarks with amused frustration, “Wow, [they had] 100 glassmakers… I can’t get one.”

Because of it’s quasi-functionality it’s easy to take stained glass for granted. Don’t. Enjoy it. Support it. Keep it from becoming a relic we can only view in a past tense in museums.

click to enlarge Stained glass artist (and mom) Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld - PHOTO BY SETH SOMMERFELD

Photo by Seth Sommerfeld

Stained glass artist (and mom) Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection • Through Feb. 13; open Tue-Sun from 10 am-5 pm • $7-$12 • Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture • 2316 W. First Ave • northwestmuseum.org • 509-456-3931 Article Source: Inlander