Treasure: Toledo exhibit celebrates Libbey legacy of American glassmaking
Toledo, our near neighbor to the south, has a long and esteemed place in the history of American glassmaking. Collectors, enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates the art form won’t want to miss “Celebrating Libbey Glass, 1818-2018,” which opened recently at the Toledo Museum of Art (toledomuseum.org) and continues through Nov. 25.
The exhibition – appropriately held in the museum’s sparkling Glass Pavilion, across from the main museum -- commemorates 200 years of excellence in glassmaking through more than 175 outstanding examples from the museum’s renowned 600-piece collection as well as objects and materials culled from the Libbey Inc. archives. Included are pieces of early pressed-glass tableware, Amberina art glass, Libbey’s world-renowned “brilliant” cut glass (including TMA’s glorious and huge Libbey Punch Bowl, made for the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exhibition), mid-century modern barware and examples of more recent “premium give-away” made for companies.
Surprisingly, the story of the Libbey Glass Co. began 200 years ago in East Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the New England Glass Works. The company rose to prominence in the 19th century, cementing its reputation as one of the most successful American producers of fine glass tableware (a fascinating history with the exhibition explains that the company was formed to profit from the shortage of European goods being imported after the War of 1812).
As the general manager of the company from 1872, William L. Libbey (1823-1883) saw the business through difficult economic times, eventually taking over the firm’s lease to become owner. His son, Edward Drummond Libbey (1854-1925), succeeded his father after his early death and made the decision in 1888 to move the entire operation to Toledo, Ohio, because of the abundance of natural gas and high-silica content sand, as well as its proximity to shipping and rail lines. The factory thrived in Toledo and, in 1892, officially changed its name to the Libbey Glass Co., helping brand Toledo as “The Glass City.”
The company’s history is woven throughout the exhibition, which is divided into three chronological chapters of the firm’s history: “New England Glass Works, 1818-1888”; “Move to Toledo, 1888-1950”; and “Libbey Contemporary, 1930-present.” “The influence Libbey had on this city can’t be underestimated,” curator Diane Wright explained at the recent preview. “They were very innovative.”
Highlights include three breathtaking punch bowls, all different in style and execution (including the amazing 140-pound Louisiana Purchase bowl), the extremely fragile bodice of a 19th-century dress made from spun glass, streamlined art deco pieces made by Arthur Douglas Nash, who once worked for Tiffany Studios, and examples from a more recent (and perhaps, most relatable) trend – giveaway glasses that the company produced starting in the 1930s for Disney. You won’t be able to look at the many examples housed in a large case near the end of the exhibit – including "Star Wars," "The Jetsons," and more – without reminiscing and appreciating the role of glass has played and continues to play in everyday life.
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