Visitors to the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts are typically amazed at the array of colours and patterns, the sheer beauty of glass pieces that comprise Anna Safley Houston’s collection. But there’s more than glass that meets the eye.
Though art glass was her specialty, Houston purchased furniture too, so all those pitchers and lamps and vases and mugs adorn sugar chests, peek from corner cupboards, dress up dressers and march across tables at the Victorian home on High Street.
Likewise, visitors to the Houston Museum Antiques Show & Sale, scheduled this weekend at Stratton Hall on Broad Street, will find the same sort of variety – pottery, furniture, books, maps, china, silver and linens, along with an assortment of art glass that Houston herself might have coveted.
“We like the mix and try and avoid being ‘heavy’ in one or more categories,” says museum Executive Director Amy Autenreith. “Of course, it becomes a challenge finding dealers, especially in the furniture area, who have become fewer and farther between.”
Many are aging out, she explains, and not wanting to haul large pieces from state to state.
But, she says, “antiques have always been cyclical, so I am hopeful that the younger people will develop an interest and see the value and craftsmanship in antiques. Overall, a visitor will likely see just about anything.”
This year’s special guest is Tom Jiamachello, owner of Yesteryear Here in Vermont and an expert on American-made art glass circa 1883-1963.
He will speak on two Pennsylvania companies known for their stunning and colourful designs — specifically the 1883-1887 Phoenix Glass Co. line called Webb Art Glass, which Autenreith describes as “a dazzling array of shapes and colours of colourful Victorian art glass pieces,” as well as the art glass objects made from 1893 to 1963 by the Consolidated Lamp & Glass Co., “considered to be the masters of cased glass in America at the time,” she says.
Jiamachello will also give verbal appraisals. He says the glass pieces he’ll discuss “went far beyond the practical utilitarian function of the glass item and showcased the artistry of the glass maker and glass decorator.” The result yielded “amazing objects of everlasting beauty that graced many American homes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
“All the artistry and technical expertise of the same glass makers who made the stunning pieces held by the Houston Museum also were applied to everyday Victorian table adornments like pickle castors, spooners, celery vases, covered butters,” he says.
“This technical mastery and artistry most likely will never come together to produce utilitarian art glass items again,” he adds. “It’s not only cost-prohibitive, but the skills of making this type of glass have been lost.”
It’s easy to imagine that this gathering of art glass lovers and professional and novice antique collectors would have been an event Anna Safley Houston (1876-1951) would have loved. She was enamoured with art glass and spent her lifetime collecting, sometimes carting purchases, even furniture, home on her back.
Museum archives indicate that she treasured her vast collection more than her personal well-being and, for that matter, her husbands – she was married and divorced at least nine times. It’s said her favourite was husband James W. Houston. He wasn’t wealthy, but he had a possession of great value to her: a truck for transporting purchases from the freight office to her shop.