Friday, 24 August 2012

Louis Comfort Tiffany - an American Genius

A Wisteria Lamp.*
Tiffany - a magic word.  Who can forget the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”?  Tiffany was a company founded in the 19th century making and selling fine jewellery and retailing other luxury items.  And, of course, it is still selling expensive jewellery.

But it was not founded by Louis Comfort Tiffany (LCT).  It was his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany who opened the business and who expected his son to follow in his footsteps.  LCT had other ideas.  He wanted to be a painter but unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - his paintings weren’t that great.

This redhead from New York City - with the temper to match - was frequently in trouble with his parents so they sent him to the Eagleswood Military Academy in Perth Amboy, NJ.  He stayed there for three years leaving when he was seventeen.  He then travelled about Europe to learn about art and the various cultures. 

Following his first European tour he attended art school in New York and met other people who influenced his forward thinking.  He made a second trip to Europe in 1868 and, with a friend (Samuel Colman), went to Northern Africa where he saw the use of bright colours.  He also saw the way medieval stained-glass windows literally glow and was particularly impressed with the windows at Chartres Cathedral.

Nine of his paintings were exhibited in 1876 at the Philadelphia Exposition but he was more interested in the Arts and Crafts interiors that were on show.  Subsequently, together with his friend Candace Wheeler (an embroidery expert) they founded the Society of Decorative Arts where classes were held in needlework, tile painting, pottery, wood carving and other crafts.

In 1879 he and some friends formed Louis C. Tiffany and Associated Artists and their first commission was to design a drop curtain for the Madison Square Theater.  Subsequently the company decorated rooms in the 5th Avenue mansion of pharmaceutical tycoon George Kemp, quickly followed by more commissions for Tiffany decorated rooms.  The Tiffany style was created by covering almost every surface with exotic patterns that were influenced by his time spent overseas.

During the 1880s the company increased their fame.  In 1881 Mark Twain had them decorate his home in Hartford, Connecticut.  That was quickly followed by a request from the White House.  President Arthur (who had succeeded the assassinated President Garfield) needed some of the rooms to be redecorated - the East Room, the State Dining room, the Red and Blue Parlors and a corridor.  And he needed that work done within seven weeks. 

Eventually LCT became fed up with the demands of his clients - no matter how wealthy or important.  Throughout the 1870s and 1880s he had been experimenting with glass and using it in some of the interiors.  But more importantly, he began designing stained glass windows for the new post-Civil War churches.  Until LCT (and John La Farge), the manufacturing technique had remained the same since the Middle Ages.  LCT’s wonderful innovation was a form of opalescent glass with a milky rainbow form of iridescence when the light shone through it.  He acquired the patent in 1881.

Stained Glass Windows at Flagler College, St. Augustine, FL
Over the years Tiffany produced stained glass windows for schools, public buildings, shops, homes, hotels, theatres and churches - to name but a few.  The company also exhibited a great deal.  As well as the windows, there were the famous lamps with all sorts of motifs such as poppies, dragonflies, fruit and almost anything else you can think of.

The Tiffany Chapel *.
Two other areas that interested Tiffany were the exotic vases and mosaic.  The best example of his mosaic and stained-glass windows can be seen at the Morse Museum in Winter Park in Florida.  In here is the fabulous Tiffany Chapel that began life at the Chicago Exposition of 1893.  Also in the museum are examples of other glassware including Favrile and lava glass.  My personal favourite shape of Tiffany vases is the Jack-in-the-pulpit with its narrow stem and opened out round top looking like a delicate opened flower.  They come in all mixes of colours.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Vase *
LCT retired in 1919 and by 1924 the company began to disintegrate.  In 1932 the Tiffany Studios went into bankruptcy.  Tiffany died in 1933 and in 1934 all of the assets were auctioned.  By then Art Nouveau was out of fashion, it had given way to the rigid lines and unfussy designs of Art Deco.

That all changed after the World War II when artists began to recognise the beauty of Tiffany’s designs.  By the 1950s museums were acquiring pieces of Tiffany ware and exhibitions were held.

LCT’s homes on 5th Avenue, New York and Laurelton Hall on Long Island are no longer.  The mansions of 5th Avenue made way for skyscrapers and Laurelton succumbed to a fire in 1957, after which Mrs. Comfort Gilder, one of LCT’s daughters, offered what was left of her father’s work to the Morse Museum where years of painstaking work have recreated the Tiffany Chapel, some of the rooms of Laurelton Hall including the famous Daffodil Terrace.
The restored Dining Room from Laurelton Hall *

If you are in Florida - around the Orlando area - do go along to the museum for a very special ‘experience’.  Breathtaking!

* Copyright - Morse Museum, Winter Park.
A Tiffany Chapel

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Coffee - the Essential Caffeine Boost.

A good cup of black coffee.

“Is that black enough for you?” a new colleague asked as she placed a mug of dark brown coffee down on the desk.
I tried to diplomatically explain that black coffee is coffee without milk.  And gave up.  As they say, if you want anything done…
But this episode did have me thinking.  Almost anywhere in Europe if you ask for coffee it automatically comes black.  In the UK ask for coffee and it comes with milk.

Little did our ancestors realise when coffee was introduced to Europe that it would become such a popular beverage and be responsible for the start of so many businesses.
England’s connection with coffee is well documented, from the Warehouses to Coffee Houses – especially in the City of London.  The first coffee house to appear was opened in 1652.
These coffee houses are responsible for much in our life which we now take for granted.  Not only did gentlemen gather to drink coffee, they did business.  And from that sprang Lloyds of London and insurance houses, financial institutions and importers of various commodities.  Stockbrokers moved from the Royal Exchange into Garraway’s Coffee House which is why attendants at the Stock Exchange are still called waiters.
And, of course, artists and writers would gather to exchange ideas.

It isn’t known exactly when and where coffee was first cultivated.  Some think it started in Arabia near the Red Sea in about AD 675.
The first coffee drinkers are reported as having experienced sensations ranging from exhilaration to religious ecstasy. 
It wasn’t until the 15th and 16th centuries that the trees were planted in the Yemen in any large degree. With the increase in coffee consumption in Europe in the 17th century the Dutch began to cultivate it in their colonies – especially Java.
In 1714 the French took a live cutting to Martinique.  This was the founding plant for the coffee plantations of Latin America.
Nowadays coffee comes from around the globe – Latin America, the West Indies, the Africas, Indonesia, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea and – India.  Yes, they produce coffee as well as tea.

The coffee tree is a member of the tropical Madder family.  Other members include quinine and ipecac.  There are also some temperate members, namely rock plants and the gardenia.
Coffee 'cherries'
The trees reach a height of 15-20ft. with fragrant white blossoms that last only a few days and several months later the small green fruit develops.  These gradually ripen into the deep crimson “cherries” which are carefully harvested.
There are three basic species – Arabian, Robusta and Liberian.  The main commercial varieties being Arabian and Robusta.  Even these are broken down into yet more varieties.  In the Western Hemisphere the Arabicas are divided into Brazils and milds.  Robustas are only cultivated in the Eastern Hemisphere.
The Brazils are mostly Santos, Parana and Rio (named for the ports from which they are shipped).
Milds, Robustas and other Arabicas get their names from the countries and districts where they grow.

The production of coffee beans is by heating them in rotating horizontal drums.  The varieties depend on the temperatures at which they are roasted.  Light at 193c., medium at 205c. and dark at 218c.
An important person in the production of good coffee is the Blender.  He needs a good “nose” to produce the required flavour from a blend of different coffee beans.
The beans are either packaged as is, ground and sealed in vacuum packs, or made into other types of coffee such as instants and decaffeinated.
This last originated in Germany.  Ludwig Roselius, a coffee merchant of Bremen, is responsible for the invention called Kaffee Haag.  (Now for a plug.... I have an article about Bremen on