By Maggie Humberston
On a hot, muggy afternoon in the Valley sometimes an exhibit comes along that just seems to re–write your soggy, wilted script. TheTiffany Trail at the Springfield Museums is doing that for me this summer. The D’Amour Museum of Fine Art is hosting Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Art. You enter a cool, low-lit gallery full of botanical shapes, unexpected textures and glorious colors – all executed in glass. One thing I like is that right away you’re oriented to the craft involved; two cases at the beginning of the show feature samples of the glass used in the pieces and the process of joining those pieces together into an artistic leaded glass whole. This gives the visitor an immediate appreciation of what’s involved in the creation of these decorative art lamps. As you walk through the show, the colors from the lampshades glow from their electric light, allowing you to see every intricate detail in their make-up. The show features a number of pieces of leaded glass, but also has blown glass, and my favorite, “favrile fabrique,” which renders glass into pleated folds that looks like cloth. Supplemental photos in large format depict the Tiffany Company workshops and sales rooms inNew York, newspaper advertisements, and some of the botanical inspirations for the work. The show runs through Sept. 9th.
Accompanying the show is the MFA’s exhibit of its own contemporary glass. It features works of older masters like Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany himself, along with contemporary glass artists like Josh Simpson and Dale Chihuly.
On to the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, built in 1895 and appropriately late Victorian in décor, to see the newly restored Tiffany windows which were commissioned by the Smiths themselves. Upstairs don’t miss Tiffany’s “The Light Bearer”, given by the Bowles family, owners of the Springfield Republican, to the Church of the Unity, one of Henry Hobson Richardson’s churches, once holding court across State Street in Springfield. Sadly, it was demolished in the 1960s – to put up a parking lot.
Finally – and I did say it was a trail, right – you should go over to the new Wood Museum of Springfield History to see the Tiffany engraved guns on the second floor. There are lots of great photos of Springfield in the early 20th century on the walls to take you back to the heyday of Tiffany himself, and while you’re there you can see the kinds of industrial innovations and neat luxury cars that were the capstone of his era.