NEW YORK – When it comes to art glass, the adage “less is more” is perhaps no truer than when describing Steuben Aurene glass. Developed by the pioneering glass chemist Frederick Carder in 1904 in upstate New York, Aurene glass was elegant in its simplicity with no need for ornate embellishment. Its iridescent look immediately captivated buyers then, as it still does now, and distinguished itself from Tiffany’s Favrile glass made during the same period.
The hallmarks of Steuben glass are “classic, color and original,” said Bonnie Salzman, president of the Carder Steuben Club. “Frederick Carder was a classicist. His more than 7,000 designs follow simple and traditional ancient forms that contain clean and graceful lines, symmetry and proportion.”
Carder honed his expertise with glass in his native England working for Stevens and Williams when Thomas G. Hawkes, who owned a cut glass firm in New York, offered him the opportunity to manage a glass factory he wanted to open in Corning, N.Y., in Steuben County (hence the new company’s name) as well as to be its leading designer. Carder accepted and almost immediately began experimenting with colored glass.
As a chemist, he excelled at creating luminous glass that beautifully absorbed and reflected light, creating more than 140 distinct colors, Salzman said. “The combination of colors he incorporated into glass objects is unique to Steuben. The colors were pure – like his English country garden, none of them clashed,” she said.
Carder was fascinated by the multicolored iridescence seen on Roman glass of the first–fourth centuries and experimented for years in England before he came to America, where Gold Aurene was first produced in 1904. Blue Aurene followed in 1905. Aurene glass was in continuous production from 1904 until about 1933. “Pieces made come in all manner of vases, bowls, centerpieces, goblets, candlesticks, compotes, baskets, colognes, etc.,” Salzman said. “Aurene is a most beautiful, elegant and rich glass – glowing with shades of blue, green, purple and silver – no two pieces exactly alike. Carder saw his Aurene glass as needing no further decoration – the finish was the decoration. These pieces are modern and luxurious even today, and glass collectors gravitate in their direction.”
He was a prolific designer but around World War II, public tastes were changing and moving away from colored glass; company management had changed and the war effort greatly restricted availability of materials needed to produce this glass. In 1943, Steuben ceased making colored art glass wares and instead focused on crystal and colorless glass.
Carder’s legacy in glassmaking stands the test of time, however, with his Art Nouveau-inspired Aurene wares, especially in gold and blue hues, remaining a perennial favorite with collectors.
“The most befitting tribute to Frederick Carder’s prolific career in glassmaking is the museum’s visually stunning Carder Gallery,” according to a blog on the website of the Corning Museum of Glass. “The several thousand pieces on view show every type of glass that Carder created from the founding of Steuben in 1903 until 1932. Also on view are examples of works from his entire career in glassmaking from 1880 to the 1950s – from early pieces made at Stevens & Williams to individual pieces he created in his retirement.”
His glass stands at the pinnacle of beautiful colors, purity of design and the finest quality attainable in handmade artistic glass, said longtime collectors and Carder Steuben Club members Elizabeth and Frank Creech. “Carder was the penultimate glassmaker: for over 80 years he labored with astonishing energy, intellect and experimentation, producing thousands of artistic glass objects in styles rooted in Classicism and including Art Nouveau, Art Deco and even Modernism.”
He was also a stern taskmaster, demanding high quality from his employees. “Carder’s insistence on excellence and, indeed, upon handmade artistic glass rather than machine-produced objects was unrelenting and is an inspiration to contemporary studio glass artists.”
A prodigious genius, glass artist, glass scientist and glass technologist, according to the Creeches, Carder lived his life to create beautiful works of glass that he hoped would inspire people to seek out beauty.
To quote Carder’s own words inscribed on one of the last pieces he made at age 92, a technically challenging diatreta vase, “Life is short — Art is long,” which perhaps best sums up Carder’s legacy to the world of enduring art.