The Carnegie comes to Mt. Pleasant glass museum

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When Harley Trice visited the Carnegie International in the fall of 2013, he also dropped by the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Gallery at the Carnegie Museum of Art and discovered two exquisite water decanters, which were exhibited in a case by themselves.

As a member of the board of the newly formed Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum and also a great-great grandson of James Bryce, founder of the Bryce Brothers Glass Co. of Mt. Pleasant, Mr. Trice was even more interested when he discovered the decanters have quite a prestigious provenance. They were made in Pittsburgh by Bakewell, Page and Bakewell Glass Manufactory as part of a 300-piece dinner service made for former President James Monroe in 1817.

A couple of months afterward, when Mr. Trice was involved in developing programming for the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum, he asked Rachel Delphia, a friend and curator of decorative arts at the Carnegie, if she would speak at the glass lecture series the museum was planning.

Ms. Delphia is scheduled to talk about recent developments in the Carnegie’s glass collection, focusing on the two decanters as well as a collection of 30 Western Pennsylvania glass pieces recently donated to the Carnegie by an antique dealer, Henry Tillou, in honor of the late Sen. John Heinz. The presentation will take place at 6 p.m. next Thursday at Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum, 402 E. Main St. in Mount Pleasant. Tickets are $10 and space is limited. For reservations, call 724-547-5929.

“Two water decanters are listed on the original invoice for the service ordered by the White House during the Monroe presidency,” Ms. Delphia said. “After two decades of heavy use, subsequent breakage and dispersal caused by several changes of administration, the collection left the White House. The Carnegie came by the two remaining decanters through antique dealer Christopher Rebollo, who exhibited them at the Winter Antique Show in New York in January 2011. When we saw them, we asked the dealer to hold them for us.”

“Most places today don’t make pieces of this quality,” Ms Delphia, of Friendship, said. “The molten glass was blown into the shape of a decanter, then cut on spinning wheels to give it various geometric patterns. The decanters were further elaborated by the similar, yet finer process, of engraving. The end result is a beautiful piece with angular facets that catch the light much like a cut diamond.”

According to Ms. Delphia, the fact that the decanters were both cut and engraved is a mark of high-end products because, with each new process, the amount of work that goes into making it and the potential for damage or breakage increases significantly.

The second component of Ms. Delphia’s talk will be the Tillou’‍s donation.

“Peter Tillou is a major dealer in fine art and American folk art, and a collector of Western Pennsylvania glass,” said Mr. Trice, a resident of the Morewood Heights section of Pittsburgh. “With galleries in London and New York, he received the prestigious Award of Merit from the Antique Dealers Association of America in 2013.”

Mr. Trice said Mr. Tillou was both a friend of and a dealer for Heinz, who bought fine art and Old Masters paintings from him.

According to Ms. Delphia, Mr. Tillou, holder of one of the largest Western Pennsylvania glass collections in the nation, worked with the Carnegie to fill gaps in its collection, which also serves as a counterpoint to the Bakewell decanters.

“At the same time Bakewell was doing his work, Pittsburgh became known for its free blown glass, including pillar molded glass, which requires blowing a bubble of glass into a mold that has up to eight ribs,” she said. “When the glass is turned, the ribs becomes spiral. This type of glass has a different aesthetic quality than cut and engraved glass, in that it is flowing, organic and curvaceous.”

According to Ms. Delphia, glass is a major part of the decorative arts collection at the Carnegie Museum of Art. She estimates that approximately 10 percent of more than 7,000 pieces in the collection are glass items. They have a broad range in both time and geography, with a strength in 19th century glass from America and Europe, besides some pieces from much further afield.

“We are looking forward to this event, which, to my knowledge, is the first time someone from the Carnegie is coming to Mt. Pleasant,” said Cassandra Vivian, president of the board of the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum. “We are very excited to have the speaker here at our museum as part of our lecture series.”

Freelance writer Dave Zuchowski: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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