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John Loring Shares Tiffany & Co. Stories Of Louis Comfort Tiffany

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s designs shown at historical society’s event  

John Loring made Louis Comfort Tiffany (LCT) truly Oyster Bay’s own in his lecture April 22 at the Oyster Bay Community Center, hosted by the Oyster Bay Historical Society (OBHS).  Mr. Loring, design director emeritus of Tiffany & Co. spoke about his recently published book Louis Comfort Tiffany at Tiffany & Co. in a slide presentation. The photographs on the screen followed their order in the book and remembering his talk, will enrich the reading experience for those who bought the book. Signed copies of the $60 volume sold for $40 to benefit the OBHS, which most of the audience opted to do. Copies, unsigned, are still available at the historical society’s Earle-Wightman House shop at 20 Summit Street.

Celebrated for his stained-glass interpretations of birds, insects, fruits, and flowers, LCT was the foremost American designer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and a leader of the Art Nouveau movement. But while the windows, lamps, and iridescent glass vases he created at Tiffany Studios are world famous, his remarkable contribution as a designer to the illustrious firm founded in 1837 by his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, has been obscured.

The book chronicles the younger Tiffany’s enduring imprint on the internationally renowned jeweler and purveyor of luxury goods, where he was design director from 1902 to 1919.

Tiffany & Co. is known for encouraging people to visit their stores since items starting at $100 are affordable, and their merchandise sets people on a track to achieve more, said Mr. Loring as he spoke that morning on CBS News Sunday Morning program in an interview on “The Tiffany Standard at 175.” In it, he said that companies use the name Tiffany when they want to describe excellence. The name Tiffany, is also a favorite one for young ladies everywhere, he added.

One of the items shown on the TV program, and at the lecture, was a brooch Tiffany designed using a peach-colored New Jersey stone, a serpentine. He pointed out that the small enamel on gold brooch was of marsh marigolds. A hallmark of LCT is that he was inspired to use American flowers and American gemstones.

Yale Roomies  

Brad Warner, the grandson of one of the founders of the OBHS, Carol Hill Lamb, introduced Mr. Loring, a friend for 56 years, as his college roommate at Yale. He informed everyone that Mr. Loring is on the OBHS advisory board and was the design director emeritus of Tiffany & Co. from 1979 to 2001. He is a contributor to Architectural Digest, and was their NY bureau chief. He is an artist whose work is in the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Yale University Art Gallery, and is the author of more than 20 books and numerous articles.

The introductory slide Mr. Loring showed was of LCT’s home in Oyster Bay Cove, saying that if it had survived the fire that destroyed it, “Laurelton Hall would have been one of the greatest house museums in America.” The center hall of the mansion showed the Oriental influences that LCT incorporated into his design ethic. Add to that his interest in things Egyptian, peacock feathers, dragonflies and the flowers one sees growing in the fields of Oyster Bay, such as dandelions, Queen Anne’s lace, lily pads, sunflowers, daffodils and beach roses and you have a sense of the LCT palette.

One of the first pieces LCT exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, was a group of hair pins – designed with a dandelion motif, with individual pieces as the spiky leaves, the soft seed ball, and several buds. The seed ball was made of a round cluster consisting of a whitish opal set at the tip of a thin silver wire replicating its delicacy.

LCT liked daffodils — yellow was his favorite color —  and interestingly, Mr. Loring said the Tiffany diamond is a jonquil color. It was shown on the CBS show in a new setting designed for their 175th Anniversary. Mr. Loring said if you wanted to please LCT at one of his parties, you would “come in a yellow evening dress.”

The color yellow has another tie-in with Oyster Bay, this time with the St. Dominic Chapel which has a great many yellow stained glass windows, as well as an altar decorated in a style that is considered by many to be Tiffany.

Another example of LCT finding beauty in the commonplace was in 1904 when he exhibited an enamel brooch fashioned after Queen Anne’s lace, a roadside wild flower.

Mr. Loring said, “Don’t expect the likes of a Tiffany to come along again. The Tiffanys were rich, rich, rich.” That made it possible for LCT to have no financial restrictions on the work he produced – and it should be noted the company was very successful financially and was as innovative then as now.

To give an example of that wealth, when LCT was creating his famed stained glass pieces, he could always find the exact color for a piece he wanted because he could find the perfect tint, shade and hue in one of the many sheets of glass he had created. There were no financial restrictions on his use of material.

Passion for Glassmaking

In his book, Mr. Loring said that LCT’s passion for glassmaking was awakened by Venetian Antonio Salviati. Tiffany imported his glass because Mr. Salviati’s glass was the “peculiar Venetian glass, the art of coloring and tinting which once lost, was restored.”

Another facet of his success was that “LCT Favrile glass vases were based on Venetian glass making techniques mixed with ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern inspiration. He set up his first glassmaking venture in 1880 with the help of Salviati-trained Venetian Andrea Boldini, who had immigrated to America and worked at the Heidt Glasshouse in Brooklyn,” said Mr. Loring in his book. Later, Englishman Arthur J. Nash joined LCT as a partner in making blown-glass ware.

LCT worked with a large staff including several talented women who were his collaborators. One of them, Julia Munson, left when she married Frederic Fairchild Sherman, as was the custom at the time. She and her husband founded the magazine Art in America, still a stellar publication, said Mr. Loring.

Another great collaborator was George Fredrich Kunz, a noted gemologist. He popularized American gemstones such as Maine tourmalines and Montana sapphires, the latter all come from the Yogo Gulch, he said.

But No Oyster Bay Pearls

Mining America for gemstones, LCT used American pearls from the Little Miami River, but Mr. Loring said pearls from Oyster Bay had no luster. “I’m afraid it’s not going to even pay your dentist bill if you bite into one of them.” [They appear to be rare, small, poorly shaped and lusterless.]

Mr. Loring also mentioned Edward C. Moore of Oyster Bay Cove who was the first collector of oriental art, much of which he donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He collected items for Tiffany & Co. which enhanced the Japanese influence on their designs.

Following the book’s sequence, after the jewelry came the glass works for which Tiffany brought over Italian craftsmen. He showed the Tiffany lamps and hand blown vases. Mr. Loring asked those attending to imagine the glassblower with a glob of hot molten glass at the end of a long pipe, blowing in air to shape the amazing vases LCT designed.

Besides jewelry for women and items for homes, LCT produced exquisite desk sets for men. Wealthy businessmen liked to use them to show off their taste and money. He also showed slides of perfume bottles that he said are still within a price range to make them affordable to collect.

An interesting historical footnote to the company is that in 1868, the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III of France, was going to Egypt to open the Suez Canal and that sparked a surge of Egyptomania. The Tiffany signature blue box is done in Empress Eugenie’s favorite color blue.

Mr. Loring said that LCT sought unusual materials and even used his Favrile glass to fashion Egyptian scarabs that he put into necklaces in 1909. “They were highly affordable.” In 1979, he said, they had crates of them and used them again with great success, selling by the thousands.

The screen flashed with a photo of an ink well made of a bronzed crab holding an ink well with an oyster shell cover which Mr. Loring said could very well have come from Oyster Bay.

LCT also was the first to use American Indian art as an inspiration, using designs from baskets to make stained glass lampshades.

As he ended his talk, Mr. Loring spoke of his own design career working with artisans, as did LCT. He said with a chuckle, “You show them what you want and they tell you if it can be made.” As for the craftsmen LCT worked with, he said, “People don’t train from the age of 7 to do things today.” That edge in craftsmanship was one of the things that helped LCT create his inspired designs. For more information about events at the OBHS please call 922-5032.