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Steuben is the most illustrious name in American art glass. Its vividly colored Art Nouveau and Asian-style wares produced in the early 20th century as well as later modernist works rendered in flawlessly clear crystal are objects of striking beauty and delicacy.
The Steuben Glass Works was cofounded in 1903 in the town of Corning, New York, by Frederick Carder, a self-taught English chemist and glassmaker. Carder was a restless experimenter, constantly creating new color formulas that resulted in a wide array of hues, from milky jades to his iridescent Aurene shades. A favorite Carder technique was to acid-etch decorative patterns into pieces made of glass layered in different colors. The forms of his vessels were relatively conservative. Most are based on classic Chinese pottery; many display the flowing, naturalistic lines of the Art Nouveau period.
The larger local firm Corning Glass acquired Steuben in 1918. The company’s approach to art glass changed radically in the early 1930s, when Corning chemists devised a new type of crystal known as 10M, with perfect clarity and brilliant refractive powers. Corning decided that, henceforth, all Steuben wares would be made from the crystal. Art glass was made in two formats: molded and polished abstract sculptures and figurines, or pieces for which artists used Steuben crystal as a sort of canvas. The first such artwork was sculptor Stanley Waugh’s 1935 Gazelle Bowl, a vessel etched with brawny Art Deco animal forms. In later years, Steuben would invite artists that included Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and Isamu Noguchi to “paint” in the firm’s crystal.
Steuben glass comes in myriad forms and is available in a broad range of price points. Jewel-toned glasses and tableware from the Carder era include candlesticks marked at $300 and full dinner services for more than $10,000. Small crystal figurines bring around $1,000, while larger sculptures are priced in the neighborhood of $7,000. As you will see on these pages, Steuben glass, with its impeccable artistry and timeless grace, deserves a place in any collection.
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