The Libbey surname and its synonymity with the lifeblood of Toledo’s art and economic communities can be viewed through glass at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Celebrating Libbey Glass, 1818-2018, an exhibition that opens Friday at the Glass Pavilion, celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Libbey Glass company and the contributions over the years by prominent owner Edward Drummond Libbey that branded Toledo as the Glass City.
“Over the past couple of months, I think what we have pulled together is representative of what this company has been able to do and continues to do,” TMA glass curator Diane Wright said of Libbey Glass. “It’s been an innovative company. It’s been a progressive company. It’s been a company that’s been able to withstand the test of time.”
The show features more than 175 glass pieces from the time the company first established its roots as the New England Glass Company in East Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 18, 1818, to more contemporary times today.
It was more than 130 years ago, in 1888, that Edward Drummond Libbey, who had been operating New England Glass with his dad William Libbey, was wooed by Toledo and all it had to offer — natural gas, plenty of sand to make the glass, and land to build a new factory on Ash Street
Through the years, the city has encountered various milestones in the glass manufacturing industry and in the world of studio glass that has assisted in both boosting and continuing its legacy.
An ornamented glass punch bowl on display during the media preview of the Celebrating Libbey Glass, 1818-2018, exhibit at the Glass Pavilion.
On the heels of New England Glass’ arrival in Toledo and the subsequent name change to Libbey Glass in 1892, Mr. Libbey and his wife, Florence Scott Libbey, founded the Toledo Museum of Art in 1901. Mr. Libbey began establishing a glass collection at the museum, marketing the company nationally and internationally through exhibiting at World’s Fairs, and offering educational programs to local craftsmen and designers, Ms. Wright said. Glassmaking workshops at Libbey’s museum that familiarized artists with the use of hot glass as a material for contemporary art were offered at Libbey’s museum with the help of such artists as Dominick Labino and Harvey Littleton, contributing to the birth of America’s Studio Glass Movement in 1962.
Mr. Libbey moved with the times, evolving from a company that created brilliantly cut glass by the hands of a single craftsman and a cutting wheel, to a sleeker, more modern look desired by the population after World War I. By the mid-20th century and on the heels of the invention by Michael Owens of a machine that could produce bottles and glasses en masse, the company became fully automated, a move that brought products to the world’s dining room tables.
“Mr. Libbey’s influence on this city cannot be underestimated,” Ms. Wright said.
The glass curator divided the show into three sections: “New England Glass Works, 1818-1888”; “Move to Toledo, 1888-1950”; and “Libbey Contemporary, 1930-present,” which highlights the work of four Libbey creative directors after the 1930s: Arthur Douglas Nash, Edwin Fuerst, Freda Diamond, and current creative director Robert Zollweg.
Throughout the space, visitors will see an array of designs that range from the complex to the sleek to the promotional: Intricately cut sugar bowls, footed mugs, goblets, oil lamps and punch bowls like the “Monet or van Gogh of the glass industry,” the popular Libbey punch bowl cut from a 143-pound piece of glass by a craftsman at the Toledo plant for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Spun glass parasols, clothing, and souvenirs are on display from production at a full-scale model factory Mr. Libbey had built on site for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Displayed are smooth barware and premium giveaway glasses, a significant retail product for Libbey in the 1980s that was originally influenced by the collection of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs glasses created by Libbey in 1937 at the behest of Walt Disney.
Celebrating Libbey Glass, 1818-2018 coincides with public events Saturday, including tours of the Edward D. Libbey House at 2008 Scottwood Ave., and 18-minute-and-18-second-long shopping sprees at the Libbey Glass Factory Outlet, 205 S. Erie St. Activities at the museum include giant chess games on the main terrace, sketching and plein air painting, glassblowing demonstrations, and outdoor flameworking demonstrations.
Contact Roberta Gedert at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6075, or on Twitter @RoGedert.
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