Tiffany’s glass mosaics on exhibit at the Corning Museum of Glass
The Gilded Age in the United States generally referred to the post-Civil War period from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century, when vast industrial fortunes led to lavish lifestyles for those relatively few families. Newport, Rhode Island came to be seen as the most fashionable resort for many wealthy industrialists, with such “summer cottages” as The Breakers, Marble House, Rosecliff, The Elms, and others. Eventually, as Henry Flagler extended the railroad down the Atlantic coast of Florida, St. Augustine became a winter destination with the opening in 1888 of the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), before the winter resorts farther south at Palm Beach, Miami Beach, and the Florida Keys became popular.
As a sign of their social status, many of these industrialists chose famous architects, landscape architects, and designers to design, construct, and embellish their estates. Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95) was a particularly prominent architect during the Gilded Age, designing the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (founded in 1870 and opened in 1872), and several Newport mansions, including Chateau-sur-Mer (1870-73), Marble House (1888-92), and The Breakers (1892-95), the latter two for the Vanderbilt family. He also designed the “largest private residence in America”—Biltmore—for George Washington Vanderbilt in Asheville, North Carolina. Vanderbilt also chose famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (1822-1903), co-designer of New York’s Central Park, to landscape the grounds of Biltmore; Olmsted designed numerous landscapes for campuses, private estates, and public parks across the country, becoming known as the “father of landscape architecture.”
No Gilded Age interior, however, would be complete without the inclusion of lamp shades or stained-glass windows from the studio of Tiffany and Co., based in New York. Today, Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida—the former Gilded Age Ponce de Leon Hotel (built 1888)—now boasts the largest collection of interior Tiffany stained-glass windows in the student dining hall, formerly the hotel’s main dining hall (the 2012 photo above by Maksim Sundukov is shared here under CC BY-SA 3.0).
Today, Tiffany’s is best known for its jewelry, in addition to their historic lamp shades and windows, but less well known are the numerous Tiffany “glass mosaics,”, which are now the subject of an exhibit at the Corning Museum of Glass in western New York State, on view until January 8, 2018.
By Karen Michel
National Public Radio
August 3, 2017