Carnegie Museum of Art Exhibits Tiffany's Early-20th-Century Desk Sets

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 28, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Carnegie Museum of Art Exhibits Tiffany's Early-20th-Century Desk Sets


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Holiday schedules can be hectic, but if you have time, be sure to visit Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland to see the comprehensive exhibition "Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages," on view in the Heinz Galleries now through Jan. 15.

And if you do, don't forget to seek out the much smaller Tiffany Studios exhibition "Distinctive Desk Sets," tucked away in a small gallery called the Treasure Room, off the Hall of Sculpture balcony. It's situated just opposite the entrance to the Heinz Architectural Center.

That's where visitors will find an exhibition of exquisitely patterned desk accoutrements, such as memo-pad holders, pen holders, desk lamps and paper racks that were intended as affordably priced luxury items from the Tiffany line.

Among the objects on view are such outmoded desk "staples" as the pen brush, blotting paper, inkstands, rocker blotters, and boxes for cigarettes.

Around 1900, Tiffany Studios, under the direction of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) began producing bronze desk sets in a variety of designs and finishes for the well-appointed desks of men and women of social standing.

Each desk set was made from bronze and came in three different finishes, with some featuring gilding, silver plate, painted or enameled details.

One of the earliest examples on view is the Grapevine design. It was issued around 1902 and is considered the first official desk set pattern offered.

"This is the pattern that Andrew Carnegie had, and it's also the pattern that President Woodrow Wilson had," says Rachel Delphia, who helped organize the show along with Elisabeth Agro, the former associate curator of decorative arts at Carnegie Museum of Art and current associate curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Grapevine set also includes etched sheet copper and Tiffany glass. "This is the most common version of this set," Delphia says. "The one that we see the most of today is this one with green glass and copper with a green patina. It also came with milky white glass. And I've actually seen one with milky white glass, and it was silverplate."

Between 1900 and the early 1930s, the studios produced 20 patterns, which included between six and 25 accessories per set. Half of the patterns are represented in this exhibition.

In addition to the Grapevine design, of the nine others on display are some of the most best-known among collectors, including:

The Heraldic.

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