Friday, March 18, 2011

Designer of the Month: Frederick Carder

Week 3: Steuben Glass Works

During Frederick Carder's fact-finding mission to the US in 1903, he made an important stop in Corning, New York, to meet with Thomas G. Hawkes, beginning an agreement with him to start the Steuben Glass Works in Corning that same year.[1] The sudden news of Carder's announcement was quite shocking to many, especially as he had just returned from a trip financed by the County Council.[2] According to an interview with Carder that was published on June 20, 1903, in the Brierley Hill Advertiser:
Three weeks hence Mr. Carder will leave England to take up his new work. Other conditions being equal, he would rather stay in England, which, in contrast with the 'wild rugged character' of the scenery to which he goes is 'like a well laid-out garden'. In his adopted city, the railways run along the streets and there are many other strange features to one who has been reared on English soil; but he says the liking of America grows upon one. He had the satisfaction, that in the sphere he is leaving he has done his work with modest faithfulness as with marked ability; and the good wishes of all who know him will accompany him into his exile, where we hope he may find, in every sense of the word, a new home.[3]
Exile, indeed. Luckily for Carder, it would be at Steuben where he would be able to fully experiment with glass, creating many of the pieces he is now famous for.

 Photograph of the Steuben Glass Works, Corning, NY. Courtesy of Steuben.

As per their agreement, during the first few months of running Steuben, production consisted primarily of crystal glass blanks for Hawkes' company to decorate, although this didn't stop Carder from experimenting with colored glass by early 1904.[4] His first and most famous color was for Aurene, a gold-colored iridescent glass that he registered on September 6, 1904, with both financial and artistic success following almost instantaneously.[5] Of course, although Aurene glass was a huge success for Carder, not everyone was pleased with it, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, who's company served Carder with a lawsuit in 1913.[6] He claimed that Carder's Aurene glass so closely resembled Tiffany's Favrile glass that "it is difficult to distinguish the imitation glass and glassware which is manufactured by the defendant from the genuine glass...manufactured and sold by the plaintiff unless carefuly [sic] examination is made," going on to state that "the imitation glass...has greatly injured the plaintiff's business...and has resulted in actual loss of business to the plaintiff."[7] Ouch. Fortunately, Tiffany's lawyers eventually dropped the suit, with no repercussions for the Steuben Glass Works. Years later, and for the first time, Tiffany and Carder met each other at an awards ceremony in New York City, with Carder relating that they "got on famously," and "agreed to let bygones be bygones."[8]

Steuben Glass Works, Turquoise Aurene Bowl with Applied Threaded Decoration, ca. 1905-1918. Courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass, New York.

For 30 years, Carder was given a free hand in designing the Steuben Glass Works' products, as well as to develop new colors and techniques.[9] The success of Steuben was due to Carder's continuous fascination with glass and attempts to push the boundaries in terms color, form and production. World War I, however, was to bring an end to the autonomy of the Steuben Glass Works, when the factory was classified by the government as a nonessential industry producing luxury items, and was denied the right to purchase raw materials that were earmarked for the war effort.[10]

[1] Mary Jean Smith Madigan, Steuben Glass: An American Tradition in Crystal (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1982), 52.

[2] Paul V. Gardner, "Carder in America: The Start-Up," The Glass of Frederick Carder (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1971), 28.

[3] Ibid., 28.

[4] Ibid., 31.

[5] Ibid., 31.

[6] Ibid., 35.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Ibid., 36.

[9] Corning Museum of Glass online, "Frederick Carder Gallery," (Accessed March 17, 2011).

[10] Paul V. Gardner, "Carder in America: The Start-Up," The Glass of Frederick Carder (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1971), 42.

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