Guns and Glass
The legendary blue box with the white ribbon beloved by grateful women the world over celebrates its 175th birthday this year. It’s that iconic box for which the name Tiffany is mostly known.
Tiffany & Co., purveyor of the fine jewelry and luxury goods found inside that box, was established by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1837. His son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, an artist and glassmaker, eventually went on to found Tiffany Studios, producer of the renowned Tiffany mosaic lamp and other remarkable decorative glass pieces and “fancy goods.”
Perhaps far lesser known is that Charles Tiffany, in addition to creating the jewelry we’re familiar with, put some of those signature designs on weapons.
The Nevada Museum of Art celebrates the Tiffany family’s legacy of design through three exhibits which, together, are titled Guns and Glass. The exhibits include a collection of 20 stained glass lamps manufactured in the early 20th century by Tiffany Studios and other companies, seven rediscovered Tiffany Studios windows that incorporate innovative glass-working techniques, and nine pieces of decorative firearms that span more than a century of design by Tiffany & Co.
The mosaic lamp exhibit, “Out of the Forest,” features work from Tiffany Studios, as well as several other manufacturers. Charles Tiffany, being the first to acquire the Bray Patent on joining glass mosaics using the copper foil method, is usually believed to be the only maker of such lamps. However, as Rachel Milon, NMA’s director of communications and marketing, explains, when the patent expired in 1903, a host of other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, contributing their own designs to the mix.
“Somebody asked me whether those lamps were ‘knock-offs,’ and no, actually, these other companies”—those featured here are Duffner & Kimberly Co., The Handel Company, R. Williamson & Co., The Unique Art Glass & Metal Co., and The Wilkinson Company—“eventually became just as well-known and respected, and their lamps were just as high in quality.”
Close study of the lamps reveals not only the turn of the century’s Art Nouveau inclusion of organic shapes and forms, but also individual design choices. Duffner & Kimberly, for example, tended toward larger, more evenly distributed floral patterns, while others used more streamlined or geometric patterns.
“In Company with Angels” showcases Louis Tiffany’s impressively distinctive glassworking talents. Unlike most stained glass, in which panes are painted to produce color, depth and texture, Tiffany used a technique of repeatedly folding and compressing the glass, with the folds creating much richer results. This can be seen especially in the robes worn by the seven angels in the collection of windows, as well as in their wings, which have a distinctly feathery texture that appears etched. Additionally, the windows contain varying thicknesses of glass, making some features appear to be spotlighted depending on the cut.
The windows, unearthed from a church barn after more than a decade of storage, are also remarkable in that about 50 percent of Tiffany’s church windows have been destroyed or lost, making this collection quite precious.
The Tiffany & Co. firearms collection demonstrate many of the Art Nouveau traits used in the glasswork—vines filigreed into gun handles, for instance—along with the etched gold and silver embellishments seen in the jewelry. The collection shown here, most of which were never intended for use, includes a presentation sword given to U.S.S. Iowa Commander Admiral Robley D. Evans, and a case containing two storied, embellished Colt pistols presented as a gift to Buffalo Bill; they’re reputed to have been opened by him in private, so overwhelmed was he with their beauty.