April 2006 Issue
Toledo: Crystal Clear
Throughout the year, this northwest Ohio town, a leader in the development and sale of glass for more than a century, extends an invitation to share its history.
The latest addition to that proud past will be unveiled in August, when the Toledo Museum of Art opens its $27 million Glass Pavilion, constructed to provide a suitable home for the institution's 5,000-plus-piece glass collection, which ranges from an intricate 14th-century Egyptian lamp to Louis Comfort Tiffany's resplendent Jack-in-the-Pulpit vase crafted in 1913.
"What's interesting about the glass industry in Toledo is that all of the companies that manufactured it sprang from one man - Edward Drummond Libbey," explains Barbara Floyd, director of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the University of Toledo, which houses many of the documents chronicling the early days of the industry.
The son of a glassmaker, Libbey was attracted to the deposits of natural gas in Toledo. The resource could be used to economically fuel the furnaces needed for manufacturing glass. He relocated from Massachusetts to the city and opened the first glass factory in August 1888, specializing in tableware. A second factory opened in 1895, and its plant manager, Michael Owens, invented the first glassmaking machine, revolutionizing the way bottles were made. As the automobile came into its own, Libbey and Owens formed a sheet-glass company, manufacturing products for home and car. Spun glass, a durable construction material, was another result of their labors.
Visitors wishing to read more about early glassmaking can stop by the Canaday Center for Special Collections at the Carlson Library on the University of Toledo campus (2801 West Bancroft, 419/530-2170).
The Libbey legacy continues today with designs ranging from old-fashioned soda-fountain glasses to contemporary candleholders. Shoppers can find bargains at the Libbey Factory Outlet (Erie Street Market, 205 S. Erie St., 419/254-5000). With savings of up to 70 percent every day, the store offers an extensive selection of popular lines, including the classic Gibraltar tumbler, to trendy stemless champagne flutes and martini glasses. Following your shopping expedition, be sure to visit the outlet's historical exhibit, featuring glass dating back to 1818 and the glassmaking equipment used to manufacture it.
Art of glass
Edward Drummond Libbey believed in giving back to the community in which he flourished. His Boston upbringing and travels throughout Europe led to an understanding and appreciation of art. That burgeoning passion led him to found the Toledo Museum of Art in 1901. Through the years, Libbey continued to acquire pieces for the museum, including the Curtis Glass Collection, featuring ancient and Islamic glass, and the Campe collection of European works from Hamburg, Germany.
Through the years, the museum has acquired pieces from around the globe, from the famed Libbey Punch Bowl, made for and exhibited at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, to a dress made entirely of glass fiber, which captivated the crowd at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The collection will be moved to an ideal home this summer when the museum's Glass Pavilion opens its doors. Standing 15 feet tall and encompassing 76,000 square feet, the one-story structure will contain a glass-making facility with studios for lamp-working, casting and molding.
Classes and workshops for glass artists of all skill levels are offered regularly at the museum. Start with "Introduction to Glassblowing," in which students learn how to create simple forms; and follow it with "Intermediate Glassblowing," where the emphasis is on gathering, shaping and blowing skills. In "Advanced Glassblowing," artists explore a variety of forming and coloring techniques. Other courses teach students how to make glass paperweights, beads, pendants and vessels, and create stained-glass works of art. The museum also provides studio-rental time for glassmakers.
Time your visit to the museum to coincide with a stellar glass exhibit and other special art events. Through April, "Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages" showcases the late 19th-century craftsman's designs that transcended the Aesthetic Movement, the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau. The first comprehensive look at Tiffany's work since the 1980s features furniture, photography, stained glass and jewelry. Through May 28, an exhibit with an intriguing title, "Rembrandt: What Was He Thinking?" celebrates the 400th anniversary of the artist's birth with a retrospective exploring the way Rembrandt worked, from initial thought process to finished product. Included are historical scenes, landscapes and portraits. "The Essence of Laughter: Satire Through the Ages," on exhibit through June 25, spotlights comic commentary from Hogarth, Daumier, Chagall and other wizards of wit. Local artists will present their best work during the "88th Annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition." The longest-running annual juried arts exhibit in the country takes place July 28 through September 3. (Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe St., 419/255-8000, www.toledomuseum.org.)
For the birds
Toledo's cutting-edge place in history continues at the Toledo Zoo aviary. Completed in 1937, the building was a Works Progress Administration masterpiece. Constructed as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to put people to work during the Great Depression, the building sports glass-block walls manufactured by Toledo's Owens-Illinois Glass Company and heralds the first use of this type of glass block in the country.
Renovated in 1998 and the recipient of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's 1999 Exhibit Award for Excellence, the aviary contains three walk-through habitats - the African Grasslands, Sonoran Desert and Australian Outback. Featured species include rhinoceros hornbills, Cuban Amazon parrots and burrowing owls. The zoo's 62 acres contain more than 700 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. Other must-see attractions include a Hippoquarium, where visitors can watch the underwater antics of the resident hippopotamus family; Kingdom of the Apes, a 17,000-square-foot outdoor gorilla playground that's home to two groups of western lowland gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees; and Tiger Terrace, where Siberian tigers, Asian sloth bears and African penguins frolic. (2700 Broadway, 419/385-5721, www.toledozoo.org)