Published: March 13, 2012
A Tiffany trifecta is running in Nevada in an improbable but glittering combination of exquisitely executed guns and glass.
Three separate Tiffany exhibits have converged at the Nevada Museum of Art: “Out of the Forest: Art Nouveau Lamps,” “In Company With Angels: Seven Rediscovered Tiffany Windows” and “Tiffany & Co. Arms from the Robert M Lee Collection,” all of which will remain on view through May 20.
The exhibition “In Company of Angels: Seven Rediscovered Tiffany Windows” heralds seven chancel windows originally installed in 1902 in the Church of the New Jerusalem in Cincinnati, Ohio. The windows were commissioned by another Swedenborgian church, the New Church Society in nearby Glendale, Ohio, as a gift. They represented the Angels of the Seven Churches described in the Book of Revelation. Sixty-some years later, in 1964 when the church was taken by eminent domain and torn down to make way for a highway, the windows were removed and crated. They ended up in the garages and basements of parishioners and later were removed to a barn at the Swedenborgian Church in West Chester, Penn., where they sat undisturbed until 2001, when they were rediscovered. Thought originally to have been only attributed to Tiffany Studios, cleaning and restoration revealed a signature.
The windows are on national tour, and the exhibition is titled after the organizer, In the Company of Angels, Inc. Tiffany adhered to theological standards and used paint to depict the face, hands and feet of each figure, while the rest of the window is made using the innovative techniques and glass pieces singular to Tiffany.
Tiffany had an entire division devoted to ecclesiastical art, such as these examples. Four kinds of ecclesiastical windows were made: figural, such as the angels on view, floral and ornamental mosaic windows and the rare landscape windows, the most costly.
The layered and opalescent glass was also hammered and mottled so it drapes like fabric, opalescent, catching and refracting the light through its textural layers. Tiffany also combed the glass, creating a feathered effect for angel’s wings.
Each angel represents one of the seven historical churches of Asia Minor (now Turkey.)
Masterful glass creations by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios are revered around the world. Lesser known, but highly coveted, are the firearms decorated by Tiffany & Co. Gunmakers, such as Colt, Winchester and Smith & Wesson, made presentation or commemorative firearms and swords for world expositions, heads of state and other notable figures and filled special orders for affluent clients.
Six Tiffany-designed revolvers, four pistols, a single rifle and a presentation sword from the collection of Robert M. Lee are on view in “Tiffany & Co. Arms from the Robert M. Lee Collection.”
Tiffany on occasion supplied the armorer with cast bronze grips with gold or silver overlay and intricate carving and engraving, but more often the grips were made by firms like Ames Sword Company and Schuyler, Hartley & Graham of New York and Tiffany decorated them. Tiffany & Co. was engaged in the manufacture of silver grips for revolvers by Colt and Wesson.
One example on view, a Colt improved breech-loading police pistol, has a grip decorated with Tiffany’s Mexican Eagle design, one of three decorative treatments unique to Tiffany designs. The others are Missionary and Child, also called Eagle and Justice, and a Civil War Battle scene. This particular example from 1872 was by an unknown New York artisan.
Another example of interest is the Winchester Model 1886 sporting rifle from 1900 that was included in Tiffany’s exhibit at l’Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris. It is attributed to Tiffany’s chief designer George Paulding Farnham and is only one of two Tiffany Winchester rifles of the period known to exist. It was made with a rosewood stock with scalloped detail.
A pair of Colt Model 1861 Navy revolvers attributed to Tiffany & Co. was presented to American Western pioneer William E. Mathewson, also known as Buffalo Bill. Each of the cased pair has silver and gold finish with elaborate engraving and double-sided ivory grips relief carved with the Goddess of Liberty on the left and an American eagle and shield with scrolls on the right. The mahogany case with brass fittings is also attributed to Tiffany. The revolvers were presented to Mathewson at a frontier dinner in Kansas in gratitude for his saving settlers from starvation and for overcoming Kiowa leader Satanta at Cow Creek, Neb.
Yet another cased example, designed by Farnham, is a Smith & Wesson presentation revolver that was made for exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The gun embodies influences of Art Nouveau with carved ivory Moorish elements, embossing and chasing. Its case is California laurel lined with chamois leather and the cleaning rod is decorated with mother of pearl and silver. It was presented to the highly accomplished horseman and marksman Walter W. Winans, who took a gold medal at the 1908 Olympics in London and a silver at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, both in marksmanship. He also won a gold medal at Stockholm for his bronze “An American Trotter.”
Tiffany briefly resumed production of arms in the mid-1890s, a window open for only about 15 years. George A. Strichman, former chairman of Colt Industries, commissioned a pair of revolvers based on an 1871 patent as a donation to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1895. A duplicate of one of the original pair is on view. It is decorated with nautical elements, including silver-inlaid dolphins and a shell, a scroll suggestive of stormy seas and a “rampant seahorse,” the latter based on Colt’s rampant colt. The gold plated grips are decorated with image of Strichman’s sail boat, Peacemaker, which is inscribed in silver on each grip panel. The butt cap bears an anchor and Strichman’s monogram.
A sword on view was decorated at Tiffany by Farnham, circa 1898‱899, and presented to Admiral Robley D. Evans, commander of the USS Iowa for his heroics in the 1898 Battle of Santiago de Cuba in the Spanish-American War. The hilt is made with molded sharkskin wrapped with a twisted gold wire, and the cast-metal scabbard has a lavish Victorian decoration.
Twenty lamps from Tiffany Studios and other makers of the era from the California collection of Byron Vreeland comprise “Out of the Forest: Art Nouveau Lamps.” Vreeland came to Tiffany lamps in the 1970s. As a craftsman in the shops at Hal Roach Studios and a practicing dentist, he developed a skill set that gives him a particular slant on design elements of Art Nouveau glass compositions.
The lamps on view include examples by Duffner & Kimberly, Handel and Durand and are set out on a 75-foot pedestal in the form of a dragonfly, a Tiffany emblem.
Tiffany’s turtleback glass resembles the color, shape and surface of a turtle. An exquisite lamp base made some time after 1902 consists of four turtleback tiles that are joined with lead came, rather than copper foil, because of the added strength and weight of the glass. In this example, large tiles were cut into smaller pieces and added to the border of the shade.
When Sanford Bray’s patent (owned by Tiffany) for the copper foil technique of joining mosaic glass expired, other companies began producing lamps after those of Tiffany Studios. A wisteria lamp by Duffner & Kimberly capitalizes on the wildly popular Tiffany example. The Duffner & Kimberly is shorter with an irregular scattering of blossoms, while the Tiffany example has a sinuous, allover pattern. Creeping nasturtium vine was also a popular design. On a Tiffany Studios nasturtium lamp, the blossoms are held within a double band at the bottom of the shade †with a few stragglers peeping through the trellis.
A vine and leaf lamp, circa 1904, by Chandler Specialty Manufacturing Company is the only one on view made with lead came rather than copper foil to bind the glass pieces. Copper foil was lighter and more flexible, allowing for more complex designs.
A Tiffany Studios dragonfly table lamp, circa 1900, is from the collection of Doug Major. Attributed to Clara Wolcott Driscoll, head of the women’s glass-cutting department at Tiffany Studios, the dragonfly is a perennial favorite. Driscoll also created the wisteria lamp, the peony lamp and other floral shades.
Also from the collection of Doug Major and on view is a ten-light lily lamp made of Favrile glass.
The Nevada Museum of Art is at 160 West Liberty Street. For information, www.nevadaart.org or 775-329-3333.
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