The global pandemic has impacted a lot of people’s study, work, and life. For us, three conservation students, our work placements at external conservation labs were interrupted. This is when our tutor reached out to the Conservation Department of The Corning Museum of Glass, who kindly offered us a five-week online work placement from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean!
During these five weeks, Astrid van Giffen, associate conservator, and Lianne Uesato, assistant conservator, from Corning’s Conservation Department customised a brief but fantastic journey into the glass world for us through a series of lectures and demonstrations. With the help from colleagues from other departments at the Museum, we had the chance to peek into a conservator’s daily life to see beyond lab work to the collaborative teamwork among departments. All of these are extremely valuable experiences for us to get a feel for working in a museum.
While we were doing a collection survey project of ceramics at the College, this work placement also inspired us to look at the glass collection from a new perspective. We had many options, as the collection includes a wide variety of glass objects ranging from Roman glass vessels to medieval, 17th century, 19th century, and modern stained glass, historic chandeliers, glass tableware, and glass elements associated with interior design. In this blog, we intend to briefly introduce the glass collection from a conservation perspective, with a particular focus on the art deco glass lamps.
Besides his engagement in the art world, College Founder Edward James also expressed his artistic vision through the interior design of his homes. Although many of them no longer exist, his avant-garde spirit can be seen in the personal possessions he left behind. When looking into the West Dean Collection, we found that he showed a specific interest in lamps. It is hard to find a single word to generalize his lamp collection, as clearly, James treated each lamp not only as a lighting source but also as a part of an innovative “personality” for each room. In particular, a group of art deco glass lamps caught our interest.
The first objects are a pair of glass standard lamps designed by Jean-Michel Frank in circa 1928. They were supplied to Edward James in circa 1930 for the interior decoration of his home at 35 Wimpole Street, London. Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941) was a French interior designer known for his minimalist and classic modernist ideas. This pair of lamps clearly conveys his aesthetics, with plain lines and elegant form. The central square pillar of each lamp was made of nine glass sheets layered together, inserted at the top and bottom in patinated bronze cubes. The thickness of the layered glass sheets enhances the greenish-blue hue of the glass but keeps the translucent and refractive quality. The circular base is also made of the same patinated bronze material, topped by four glass quarters that create a mirror effect.