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Hot Glass, Cool Characters: Vitrolite Visions
Posted on October 3, 2017
by Suzanne S
In a 1940 Libbey-Owens-Ford article from their in-house publication, “The Batch,” it is noted that along with Vitrolite, many LOF products were used in the new library including plate glass, Blue Ridge glass, and Extrudalite. People were excited to see the grandeur of the new library in downtown Toledo, Ohio. A “Toledo Times” article from July 23, 1940, stated that hundreds of visitors attended an evening open house to preview the murals at Main Library.
All of the murals at Main Library were created by inlaying “puzzle pieces” of hand-cut art glass onto large panels of colored Vitrolite. The majority of the work took place in Parkersburg, West Virginia. However, the finishing work was completed in Rossford, Ohio.
Displaying more than 80 colors of glass, the breathtaking murals in Main Library’s Central Court illustrate the history of arts and sciences in a variety of fields such as architecture, painting, music, philosophy, and industry. Designed by New York Artist John Benson (with the exception of the “Philosophy” panel, which was designed by Frank Sohn) the murals are six feet tall, and surround the atrium in a continuous frieze. The massive columns in the court, as well as many other walls throughout Main Library, are surfaced with Vitrolite.
Frank Sohn of Toledo’s Libbey-Owens-Ford Company (LOF) chose the subjects to be used in the Children’s Library murals from books hand selected by the librarians of that department. Sohn made the original drawings from which the LOF staff artists and draftsmen determined colors and created the finished murals. Josef Kossof was the staff artist responsible for most of the plaques in the Children’s Library. Marjorie Grace, a New York illustrator, created the drawings for the Toddler Room.
Please visit your Main Library to view this reflection of the past and celebration of the present! While you’re there, listen to our self-guided audio tour to learn more about the intricate Vitrolite panels and the care taken to install them.
Below, you’ll find a variety of titles you may enjoy. The selections celebrate the varied history of glass and Toledo’s longtime association with it. You’ll also find a handful of books exploring glass art, artists and glass craft.
Glass History and Its Connection to Northwest Ohio
The headline, “Where Glass is King,” emblazoned Toledo newspapers in early 1888, before factories in the Ohio city had even produced their first piece of glass. After years of struggling to find an industrial base, Toledo had attracted Edward Drummond Libbey and his struggling New England Glass Company to the shores of the Maumee River, and many felt Toledo’s potential as “The Future Great City of the World” would at last be realized.
The move was successful—though not on the level some boosters envisioned—and since 1888, Toledo glass factories have employed thousands of workers who created the city’s middle class and developed technical innovations that impacted the glass industry worldwide. But as has occurred in other cities dominated by single industries—from Detroit to Pittsburgh to Youngstown—changes to the industry it built have had a devastating impact on Toledo. Today, 45 percent of all glass is manufactured in China.
Well-researched yet accessible, this new book explores how the economic, cultural, and social development of the Glass City intertwined with its namesake industry and examines Toledo’s efforts to reinvent itself amidst the Midwest’s declining manufacturing sector.
The first comprehensive biography of the visionary and craftsman who defined the modern glass industry. With nine companies and 49 patents bearing his name, Michael J. Owens is a paradoxically inconspicuous influence on daily life. His invention of the Owens Bottle Machine revolutionized the container industry, making mass-marketed food and beverages both sanitary and consistently proportioned. A big-picture, true-to-life Horatio Alger character, his automated inventions were vital to electric lighting, food and beverage packaging, advanced optics, and automotive safety. The reduction of child labor was a direct and significant outcome of his inventions. Born in 1859 to an Irish West Virginian mining family, Owens, himself a child laborer, ultimately became known as the father of project management. Quentin Skrabec’s engaging account is the first biography on this unpretentious, resourceful, colorful, and dynamic industrialist and inventor.
Edward Drummond Libbey was a glassmaker, industrialist, artist, innovator and art collector. Both practical and creative, he forever changed the glass industry with the automatic bottle-making machine and automatic sheet glass machine. This work examines the long career of Libbey, particularly his innovation of American flint cut glass, his contributions to the middle-class American table through affordable glassware, and his enormous art glass and painting collections, which eventually formed the basis for the Toledo Museum of Art’s collection. Libbey single-handedly revolutionized glassmaking, a craft which had gone virtually unchanged for 2000 years.
The discovery of natural gas around Findlay in 1886 started an industrial rush in northwest Ohio. Within five years, over 100 glass companies had moved into the region for free gas and railroad connections to the western markets. Unfortunately the gas ran out in just a few years, and many glass companies moved on, but those that stayed changed the nature of the glass industry forever. A brilliant inventor, Michael Owens of Libbey Glass automated the glass-making process after 3,000 years of no change. His automated bottle-making machine changed American life with the introduction of the milk bottle, beer bottle, glass jar, baby bottle, and soda bottle. It also eliminated child labor in the glass factories. Owens also automated the production of fl at glass by 1920. By 1930, over 85 percent of the world’s glass was being produced on the machines of Michael Owens, bestowing the title of “Glass Capital of the World” upon northwest Ohio.
Covering the art of glass from ancient times to the present day, and published on the occasion of the opening of the Glass Pavilion, this work illustrates the magnificent collection of glass from the Toledo Museum of Art.
This is a collection of autobiographical essays by Paul J. Stankard, recognized widely as one of the world’s master glass artists and dyslexic. He is particularly renowned and respected for his flameworked floral motifs expressed in crystal paperweights, rectangular columns, and orbs.
The American studio glass movement can be traced to 1962, when Harvey Littleton, a professor of ceramics at the University of Wisconsin, had a dream to alter molten glass into unique forms in a studio setting and teach his techniques. For the first time in its 3,500-year history, glass production, that had been limited to factory settings, moved to the artists’ studios and became a part of an academic program in the fine arts. Since then, glass has become the fastest growing studio art medium throughout the world. This book takes us from the first workshop in a Toledo, Ohio garage, to reveal decade by decade the unprecedented growth of studio glass. Through high-quality, detailed images and stories, this retrospective of 50 top artists is a collector’s dream. Noted art dealer Ferdinand Hampson offers a unique perspective on this exciting evolution.
The son of a Corning Glass Works scientist, Harvey Littleton (born 1922) first studied physics and industrial design, before becoming a teaching ceramicist. In the late 1950s, he turned to glassblowing, which was then restricted to the factory floor: devising a small furnace, he introduced hot glass into the artist’s studio. In 2012, exhibitions at the Corning Museum of Glass, the Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, and elsewhere will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the two historic Toledo Museum glassblowing workshops that Littleton led in spring 1962. At those workshops Littleton put the ancient medium of glass into the hands of today’s artists.
Benefiting from close access to the artist and his personal archives, the engaging text is illuminated by many unpublished archival photographs and a detailed chronology. Littleton’s early ceramic and glass vessels and his richly colorful glass sculptures, among them the late “Lyrical Movement” series—twisting, twirling forms—illustrate this beautifully designed book. It also includes work by his close friend and European counterpart Erwin Eisch and his former student and much-celebrated glass artist Dale Chihuly. Littleton’s work is represented in museum collections worldwide, including: the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
This comprehensive introduction features projects both beautiful and practical that are sure to appeal to all beginning glassworkers. It covers all of the fundamentals, such as fusing, slumping and draping, as well as some intermediate and advanced techniques.
Glass crafting can offer perfect projects for the beginner: each of these is small in size, with a limited number of pieces, and uncomplicated to assemble. The projects reflect a variety of styles, too, from luscious florals to Eastern minimalism, and unconventional ways of working with glass (such as decoupage, beading, and bottle cutting).
Features glass artists from around the nation celebrating the work of three visionaries who led the original 1962 workshops: ceramics artist Harvey Littleton, chemist Dominick Labino and the Director of the Toledo Museum of Art, Otto Wittman.