American art glass refers to decorative household glass objects made in factory or production settings from the Victorian Era to the present. We’re not talking about Heisey or Fostoria pattern glass here, or even carnival glass made by the likes of Fenton, Northwood, and Imperial. No, this is the seriously fancy stuff made by companies with names like Tiffany, Steuben, and Blenko.

One of the biggest influences on American art glass was the American branch of the Art Nouveau movement, which sought to break down the barriers between so-called high art (painting and sculpture) and the applied arts (craft) to create a unified aesthetic that would speak to people of all classes. It was, in part, a rejection of mass-produced goods, but it didn’t take long for the same champions of the naturalistic look we associate with Art Nouveau to figure out ways to produce their goods quickly and at a profit.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was a particularly successful early producer of art glass, making leaded lamp shades and iridescent vases that today seem to be the definition of the genre. The son of the famous jewelry designer, Tiffany studied painting with landscape painter George Inness before learning art-glass techniques from French master Emile Galle. These experiences informed Tiffany’s work at the Tiffany Glass Co., which he established in 1885 to produce leaded-glass doors and stained-glass windows.

Tiffany renamed his firm the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in 1892—in 1902 it would become Tiffany Studios. Throughout, blown glass remained a preoccupation for Tiffany. In 1893, in order to have as much control on the process as possible, Tiffany installed glass-blowing furnaces at his studio. A year later, the Favrile brand was born.

Favrile glass was prized then, and is still admired today, for its eye-catching iridescent surfaces. The Favrile line included classic forms harking back to Tiffany’s fondness for ancient glass shapes, as well as for new inventions like the paperweight vases, which are technical marvels that remain difficult for contemporary artists and artisans to duplicate to this day.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Tiffany’s love for leaded-glass windows and electrical lamps combined into a series of lamp shades on bronze bases. Tiffany lamp shades seem to drip and drape over their light sources, in dense organic patterns resembling wisteria, apple blossoms, and other plants and trees. The colors of the glass he used were proprietary, which is one reason why copies of Tiffany lamp shades look like the pale imitations they are.

Steuben came next, in 1903. Co-founded by designer Frederick Carder, Steuben’s first line was a new form of iridescent glass called Aurene. Unlike Tiffany’s dense and dark Favrile, which had been introduced almost a decade earlier, Carder’s Aurene pieces were luminous and lustrous, seeming to radiate more light than they absorbed...

The shapes of Carder’s Aurene pieces were also unlike Tiffany’s. His Favrile forms and their surface decorations tended to the organic and naturalistic—they were pure Art Nouveau. Steuben’s Aurene vases, bowls, and candlesticks flirted with Art Nouveau, but Carder never strayed far from classical forms, and he used decoration sparingly.

Steuben’s earliest years were largely devoted to the production of Aurene. Gold was a favorite color, sometimes paired with white or shades of green or red. Blue Aurene was a Steuben glass mainstay—some blue Aurene Steuben vases had concave bodies and ruffled rims; others were squat and almost utilitarian looking. By the 1910s, Egyptian shapes (tall vases with collared necks and high shoulders) were added to the company’s repertoire.

After Steuben was sold to Corning Glassworks in 1918, Carder remained with the company to guide it through the 1920s. Many Steuben vases from this period were acid etched and suggested the influence of Art Deco. It was beautiful stuff, but it wasn’t selling, so, in 1933, Carder was replaced by sculptor Sidney Waugh, who turned the company’s focus to clear crystal. Waugh wanted to take advantage of a new glass recipe, created by Corning Glass chemists, that permitted the full spectrum of light to pass through it, including ultra-violet waves. The result was unprecedentedly clarity.

Almost all Steuben products produced in the years following this innovation were made out of this new crystal, which was called 10M—from stemware to drinking glasses. As for the company’s art glass, it was heavily influenced by Art Deco. Large cut or blown bowls, urns, and vases were routinely engraved using copper-wheel techniques. Waugh most famous piece, his Gazelle Bowl, came relatively early on—1935—and was soon added to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

In 1940, Steuben collaborated with 27 internationally renowned artists, from Georgia O’Keefe to Henri Matisse. After World War II, Steuben designer Walter Teague turned to the drawings of John J. Audubon to create a series of 10-inch plates, each of which featured an engraving of a different bird on its base. In 1947, President and Mrs. Truman presented a set of the Steuben Audubon plates to Princess Elizabeth as a wedding present.

Another leader in American art glass has been Blenko, which began in 1921 as The Eureka Glass Company—it was renamed after its founding family in 1930. In its early years, Blenko paid the bills by making glassware, but during the 1930s, Blenko's pieces got incrementally fancier. Blenko's iced-tea and highball glasses, as well as its candleholders, rolled-rim plates, and crackle-body decanters, caught the eye of the people running Colonial Williamsburg, who, in 1933, made Blenko the exclusive manufacturer of table and stemware for the historic site.

By the end of the decade, a new shop foreman named Carl Ebert Erickson had joined the company—Blenko's line of "Heavy Swedish Type Vases," which have been attributed to Erickson, gave the company its identity just before the war.

After the war, Winslow Anderson took the company’s design reins. He introduced indented vases of various sizes and colors, bent-neck cruets, and slender, flat-bottom decanters with teardrop stoppers. Anderson laid the groundwork for one of Blenko’s most influential designers, Wayne Husted, who was with the company from 1953 until 1963. During that decade, Husted pushed both form and color to bring Blenko into step with the prevailing Mid-century Modern aesthetic.

In the mid-to-late 1960s, Joel Philip Myers, who is now a well-known studio glass artist, designed for Blenko, injecting humor and whimsy into the company’s sensibility. Especially charming are some of the decanters Myers designed with cowboy hats and longhorn skulls for stoppers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

This fabulous site is a guide to Bohemian art glass makers from 1885 to 1920. Loetz was the premier Bohemian glass … [read review or visit site]

Cloud Glass Reference Site

Cloud Glass Reference Site

Chris and Val Stewart’s impressive attempt to create a complete catalogue of all known cloud glass, a decorative … [read review or visit site]

Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club

Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club

The heart of this website, home of the Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club, is the Identification Project, whe… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

6027 Blenko Decanter In Tangerine - Wayne Husted 1960 DesignVintage Fenton Poppy Lamp#1 Vintage Fenton Violets In The Snow Student Lamp Signed - WorkingLot 12 Fenton Art Glass Christmas Trees,snowman, Angel, Bells Vase Fairy LightAntique Hand Blown Steuben Calcite Gold Aurene Art Glass Sherbet & Under Plates971 Blenko Fish Vase In Sea Green - Winslow Anderson 1940's Design19thc New England Glass Amberina Glass Syrup Pitcher Dot Optic~~silver TopBlenko Jonquil Sharks ToothVintage Blenko Wayne Husted 6027 Amberina Tangerine Decanter Shot Glass Stopper Early Blenko #384h Water Bottle With Handle In ChartreuseFenton - Light Blue/iridized Snow Bunny - P. Lauderman Signed - No Reserve!!Vintage Signed Steuben Art Glass Bowl Spiral Twist Base 7" Diameter Pollard 8060Rueven Glass Cat Fenton C1900 Fenton Cobalt Carnival Glass "prism Band" Floral Decor Tankard & TumblerSet Of 12 Signed Steuben Water/wine Glass Teardrop 6 3/4" TallBlenko 5433 Fish Vase In Gold - Wayne Husted 1954 DesignVery Rare!! 5414 Blenko Fruit Bowl In Crystal? - Husted 1954 DesignFenton Art Glass Ooak Handpainted Butterflies On Lotus Mist Burmese VaseBlenko 5816s Drum Decanter In Sea Green - Husted 1958 DesignBlenko 6051 Vineyard Water Bottle In Turquoise - Husted 1960 DesignRare Blenko Decanter Hand Blown Flame Stopper Blue Ribbed 16""etched!" 5824s Blenko Bottle Vase Tangerine - Husted 1958Mt. Washington Art Glass Flower / Hat Pin HolderHuge 5710 Blenko Pitcher In Sea Green - Wayne Husted 1957 DesignAntique Art Glass Cranberry Ruby Hand Blown Fine Tight Quilted Toothpick HolderStunning Pair Of Large Steuben Glass Tear Drop Candlesticks Amazing Conditon Scarce Mckee Chocolate Glass Geneva Toothpick Holder C1902An Early Blenko #47 Decanter And A Set Of 6 #36 Cordial Glasses In Tangerine7227l Blenko Canister In Tangerine - Nickerson 1972 DesignGreenwich Flint Craft / Blenko Pencil Neck Mushroom Decanter By Tom ConnallyVintage Mid Century Amorphic Signed Steuben Glass Bowl 9.25"' Steuben Art Glass Fish Trout Figurine Paperweight3 Steuben Art Glass Tropical Fish Paperweight - No Reserve CollectionVintage St Clair Art Glass Pink & White Floral Perfume Bottle Paperweight Nr Yqz8.75 Steuben Footed Scroll Snail Vase #7913 - No Reserve CollectionVintage Signed Steuben Glass Rabbit Hand Cooler Paperweight Lloyd Atkins C1970sMould'blown Alabaster/rosaline Steuben Glass Cologne Or Decanter Missing StopperMt Washington Wavecrest Glass Urn With Metal Holder 4pcs Victorian Hobbs Brockunier Blue Opalescent Swirl Mold Blown Glass Bowls Rare Stunning Signed Ed St. Clair Single Long Stemmed Tiger Lily PaperweightVintage St Clair Paperweight Perfume Colone BottleRobert Held Iridescent Art Glass 9 1/2 Inch VaseVintage L.c. Tiffany 370c Blue Favrile Pulled Feather 9 3/4" VaseAntique Tiffany Studios "pine Needle" Letter Rack, Bronze & Glass, StampedLarge Wave Crest Handpainted Jewelry Box With Hinged Lid Ormolu Antique Tiffany Studios "pine Needle" Double Card Case, Bronze & Glass, EarlySteuben Powerful Bull & Great Bear Set - No Reserve Collection WallstreetAntique Tiffany Studios "pine Needle" Inkwell, Bronze & Glass, Stamped, LargeSigned L.c.t Favrile Louis C. Tiffany Studios Iridescent Blue Glass Compote RdrWheeling Peachblow Vase Amber Glass Dragon Griffin Base Only 1845-1893Nice Pair Fenton # 449 Celeste Blue Candle Sticks, Cut Oval Design, 10 1/4" TallElegant L. C. Tiffany Favrile Iridescent Short Footed Bowl Compote SignedVintage Signed Steuben Crystal Glass Large 9" Dolphin Porpoise Lloyd Atkins 8126Antique Tiffany Studios "pine Needle" Calendar Frame, Bronze & Glass, StampedTiffany & Company, Broom Corn, Salad Serving Set, Sterling (.925), No MonogramFenton Art Glass Ooak Opal Satin 5.75" Handpainted Owl FigurineFenton Art Glass Ooak Spruce Green 6.75" Paperweight With Dinosaur DesignVintage St. Clair Paperweight Lamps, Original Owner, Pristine ConditionAntique Tiffany Studios "pine Needle" Letter Opener, Bronze & Glass, StampedFenton 7 Pc. #7700 Qh Water Set Pitcher & 6 Tumblers In Burmese W/raspberry Dec.