Louis Comfort Tiffany advanced his interior design career by producing stained glass windows for the homes of the elite of New York society. The interior design firm ultimately evolved into a studio from which his highly prized leaded glass Tiffany lamps were handcrafted by a team of artisans and craftsmen.
Known for their intricate and colorful art nouveau style patterns, it is believed that the first of the Tiffany lamps was designed toward the end of the Nineteenth Century. Although these stained glass masterpieces bore the name of the studio owner, the actual master designer of many of the most valuable lamps was a woman named Clara Driscoll. Production continued into the Twentieth Century until severely impacted by the onset of the Great Depression.
At the time, Interior design pursuits greatly benefited from the advent of electricity as a means for indoor lighting. Gas lighting was the interior light source prior to electricity which required a fixed gas line to work. Electrical lamps incorporated the concept of form following function. The production of torchieres, wall sconces, table lamps and overhead glass shades as integrated interior design elements, were all made possible by the development of the incandescent light bulb.
Louis Tiffany became interested in stained glass windows after a tour of European churches and museums. Acknowledged as an innovator in the production of colored glass, this was primarily due to fact that he had established a glass foundry as an adjunct to his design studio. Owning his own glass production factory allowed him and his team to experiment with the color, styles, shapes and textures of the glass lamp shades that were designed and produced.
Stained glass production is considered to be both an art and a craft that has historical significance as early as the Eleventh Century. It is theorized, however, that the true origins may be found much earlier in the form of mosaics and cloisonne. Stained glass gained its early popularity as windows for the churches of medieval Europe. In general, many of the windows related biblical scenes and stories to accommodate the largely illiterate population.
Stained glass begins with glass that has been colored by infusing metallic salts into the formation process. Stained glass can also be achieved by using a kiln to fuse colors painted directly on the glass. Painted glass, however, does have a tendency to fade over time. In either process, the stained glass was broken into pieces to form a design and traditionally bound together by lead strips.
The unique designs and shapes of the tiffany lamps called for copper foil to be used to secure the elaborate patterns, as it was strong, yet malleable. Instead of piecing small bits of glass together, a pattern was first drawn and the appropriate glass colors were laid on top and traced. The individual colored glass pieces were then cut accordingly and bound together with the copper foil. Once all bound, the copper edges were soldered together to secure the entire design.
Tiffany lamps are available today as reproductions of the originals, many of which were produced over a century ago. Originals have been offered and sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Others may be found in public and private collections around the world. All of this is a testament to the vision and innovation of Louis Tiffany, who remains synonymous with exceptional stained glass artwork