Remember that lamp that your grandmother loved? The one with the stained glass flowers? Well, it's currently on display at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
OK, maybe not that exact lamp. The MAC is currently showcasing Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection with over 60 objects created by the masterful designer, spanning over 30 years of Tiffany's prolific career.
Louis Comfort Tiffany embraced almost every artistic medium in his lifetime, starting as a painter before moving to others. From stained glass to pottery, Tiffany was not only a multifaceted artist, but an inventor. He experimented with techniques unheard of in the 19th century, making him an innovator for all designers that came after him.
"This one is actually blown glass," says Wes Jessup, the MAC's executive director, showing off a vase shaped like a jack-in-the-pulpit plant, the delicate stem holding up an iridescent petal structure. "It probably wasn't designed to hold anything, but that's the mastery of Tiffany at play. He made decorative objects that were so highly sought out."
Of course, the vases are just a stepping stone of Tiffany's brilliance.
Much like the vases, the famous Tiffany lamps weren't designed to be functional or to illuminate a room; they were designed to be the centerpiece of any space they inhabited.
Tiffany brought many aspects of the natural world into his work. His stained glass windows contain vibrant scenes of rivers, trees and sunsets that act like a portal to another world for the viewer. He famously said that "nature is always right ... nature is always beautiful," and that's evident throughout the entire exhibit. Flowers, insects and trees are the focal point in many pieces.
"He was so inspired by nature," Jessup says. "He was drawn to natural organic forms like flowers and different plants. When he was working from his spirit, he was inventing things. He was inventing processes that would capture nature in a different way than other artists at the time."
Not only did he create breathtaking scenes of nature, but he created a narrative to go along with his pieces. The stained glass window dubbed The River of Life tells a common biblical tale that was portrayed in churches around the world in the 19th century.
"It tells a story of passing from life to death," Jessup explains. "It's a very rosy picture of that, but his storytelling through something as seemingly simple as a window is just something to admire."
Tiffany's work was hastily collected by art museums and private collectors during his lifetime, and continues to be sought out to this day. Richard H. Driehaus, the late owner of these Tiffany pieces at the MAC, saw the innovation Tiffany brought to the art world and became the most prolific Tiffany collector of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Driehaus collected Tiffany's work for over 40 years, amassing more than 1,500 pieces.
"If he didn't feel a connection, he would pass it up," Jessup says. "He wanted the world to be able to speak to people — that was the standard by which he collected, and it made for an extraordinary collection."
When Jessup booked the Tiffany exhibit in Spokane, he knew of an underlying Spokane connection to the artist just two blocks from the MAC itself.
At the top of the grand staircase of the Patsy Clark Mansion sits an immense Tiffany window. In fact, all of the beloved stained glass windows in the mansion are of Tiffany design.
"Tiffany's career and his rise to success kind of mirrors the early 20th century rise of Spokane," Jessup says. "There were so many beautiful residences being built around here, and of course including Tiffany in their designs, interior and otherwise, made them that much more magnificent."
With the holiday season in full swing, the MAC is expecting an increase in traffic — especially through the Tiffany exhibit.
"It's a great holiday show," Jessup says. "It's beautiful, accessible work, and it's just perfect for families. So far there has been an incredible response from the community. I truly do think it's the most beautiful show we've ever had, and it's not every year that you have an exhibition that lends itself to the holidays so well."
The MAC will be operating under regular hours throughout December and decorating the famed Campbell House with winter window displays and lights. If you're bringing a group to see the Tiffany exhibit, Jessup recommends reservations, but walk-ins are always open for spontaneous visits.
The exhibit runs through Feb. 13, 2022, giving ample time for Spokane residents to experience the craftsmanship of Tiffany through his many artworks.
"Tiffany was all about innovation, experimentation and, most importantly, creativity." says Jessup. "I hope that our community is drawn to it in the same way that I was." ♦
Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection • Through Feb. 13; open Tue-Sun from 10 am-5 pm • $7-$12 • Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture • 2316 W. First Ave • northwestmuseum.org • 509-456-3931