Tina Oldknow was the Museum's curator of modern glass from 2000-2014, and the senior curator of modern and contemporary glass from 2014 until her retirement in September 2015. During this time,...
Decades In Glass: The '50s
Decades in Glass: The '50s focused on designs in glass from Italy, Scandinavia, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. Spurred by a booming economy after the end of World War II, the decade of the 1950s was an intensely creative one for industrial design. Principles of flexibility, efficiency, practicality, and affordability dominated the production of consumer goods, which ranged from automobiles and clothing to furniture and furnishings. In the United States, good design was defined as that which thoroughly merged "form and function, revealing a practical, uncomplicated beauty."
The Modernist style-with its emphasis on form, function, clean lines, and new materials-was the perfect vehicle for postwar design. Once the domain of the upper-class elite, Modernism in the 1950s was democratized, industrialized, humanized, and popularized.
Designers in the United States, Italy, and Scandinavia promoted a new, organic form of Modernism in the applied arts. Household goods that reflected this approach rejected hard-edged, machine-inspired profiles in favor of curving, abstract shapes inspired by the human body and the natural world. One of the most recognized examples of '50s design-the kidney-shaped coffee table- illustrates this approach.
Italian, Scandinavian, and Czech designers, in particular, revitalized and redefined the shape, look, and feel of glass. While color and expressiveness were the hallmarks of American and Italian design, Scandinavian and Czech glass presented a more restrained, intellectual approach.
Italy assumed a leading role in postwar design, establishing a reputation for style and sophistication in a number of design fields, such as automobiles, furniture and furnishings, lighting and glass, ceramics, interior design, and fashion. The exhibition included glass by the Italian designers and companies Ercole Barovier (1899-1974) for Barovier & Toso, Carlo Nason (1898-1964) for Vincenzo Nason & C., Flavio Poli (1900-1984) for Seguso Vetri d'Arte, and Gio Ponti (1891-1979) and Paolo Venini (1895-1959) for Venini.
Scandinavia was an important hub for design after 1950. Scandinavian design focused on modest, quality products for the increasingly prosperous middle class. Finland and Sweden were the most influential countries for glass design. The exhibition included glass by Finnish designers Kaj Franck (1911-1989) for Notsjö, Timo Sarpaneva (b. 1926) and Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985) for Iittala, Swedish designer Nils Landberg (1907-1991) for Orrefors, and Dutch designer Andries Dirk Copier (1901-1991) for Leerdam.
During the 1950s, painting, sculpture, and graphic arts were used to illustrate Communist ideology in Czechoslovakia. Czech designers working in glass, however, were allowed to pursue "unapproved" Modernist and abstract ideas. The exhibition included glass by Czech designers Vladimír Jelínek (b. 1934), Vera Lišková (1924-1985), Ladislav Oliva (b. 1933), and René Roubícek (b. 1922).
American design of the decade, like Italian and Scandinavian design, was characterized by an organic modernist approach that rejected hard-edged forms in favor of curving forms inspired by the human body and the natural world. The exhibition included glass by Maurice Heaton (1900-1990), Wayne Dale Husted (b. 1927) for Blenko, George Sakier (1897-1988) for Fostoria, and Russel Wright (1904-1976) for Imperial and Old Morgantown Glass.