A window into Tiffany
Morse Museum's expansion puts designer's better-known works in perspective
Published: February 24, 2011
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park
$5 (free through
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park was already home to one of the most comprehensive collections of the work of celebrated decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, but last week it cinched its reputation as the museum for Tiffany art and fine-art objects. With the opening of 10 new galleries dedicated to interpretive exhibits from Tiffany's art-glass legacy, as well as architectural fragments from Laurelton Hall, Tiffany's famed New York estate, a more complete picture is available of the man known for his exquisite lamps.
Winter Park architecture firm Rogers, Lovelock & Fritz designed the project, working alongside world-class lighting and exhibit designers; the new wing was opened to the public on Feb. 19. If it wasn't already, Tiffany's legacy is now firmly ensconced in Central Florida, revealing as much about our place in history as it does about Tiffany's work.
Tiffany embedded crystals and gems into many of his glass works, marrying them with carved stone and forged metal in a rich, steamy jambalaya that reeks of the late 19th century in which he lived and worked. He helped release artists from their Beaux-arts bondage, and his exploration of electric light and glass made him a design pioneer in his day. When European modernists invaded America's aesthetic sensibilities around the turn of the 20th century, however, Tiffany's popularity waned; the Great Depression cemented his reputation as the artist to the hated rich.
Before modernism - which was heavily influenced by Freud's studies of the subconscious mind - exotic art was inspired by the outside world, rather than the inner world. Tiffany's work, for instance, was influenced by nature as well as Asian, African, Celtic and Islamic design. His pieces have an old-world weight to them; the leaded glass and wrought iron works in his designs almost evoke the medieval. They feel massive and substantive, and it's particularly interesting to consider them in contrast to the work of popular contemporary glass master Dale Chihuly, whose ephemeral, bubble-like blown-glass objects seem so fragile and untouchable.
Once Tiffany's style fell out of favor, his legacy nearly vanished; after fire destroyed his studio and estate at Laurelton Hall, he could easily have become an Antiques RoadShow footnote were it not for the efforts of Hugh and Jeannette McKean. Hugh McKean was a painter who was selected by the Tiffany Foundation to join other artists at Laurelton Hall in the 1930s, where they worked under Tiffany's guidance. In 1932, he joined the faculty of Rollins College. The Chicago-born Jeannette Genius enrolled as a student at Rollins in the 1920s and remained involved with the school long after. In the 1930s she was elected a school trustee and founded the Morse Gallery of Art on the Rollins Campus in 1942. She named Hugh McKean, then a Rollins art professor, its director. Hugh and Jeannette married in 1945, and the two began a collection of fine-art objects, including pieces by Tiffany. In 1955, they had amassed enough Tiffany pieces to hold the first exhibit of Tiffany works in a museum since the artist's death in 1933.
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