Mount Washington Glass Company Sicilian ware

Text by Laura Short, Gallery Attendant

988.1.0714 Black Lava VaseThough this vase may look like it’s from the 1980’s, it was really manufactured during the Victorian era.  It is called Sicilian ware, and was probably the first art glass produced by the Mount Washington Glass Company.  Frederick Shirley, manager of the company, was known for his innovative glass designs, and applied for 3 patents between 1878 and 1879 for his new Sicilian Glass.  The recipe supplied in the patent lists “lava or volcanic slag” as part of the ingredients that give the glass its coloring, which is why many collectors also call it “Lava glass”.  The chemical components of lava and glass are very similar, so it is relatively easy to add lava to a glass mixture.  In fact, obsidian is a natural glass formed by slowly cooling lava.  The lava used for Sicilian ware was supposedly from Mount Etna on the eastern coast of Sicily, Italy – thus the source of its name.

During the Victorian period archaeology blossomed as a major academic pursuit.  Excavations going on throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Egypt brought many fine examples of ancient art to museums throughout Europe and the United States.  These included discoveries of ancient glass and pottery from places such as Troy and Mycenae.  Public interest in the ancient world was further fueled by the 1876 World Fair—the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which included modern and antique works from all over the world.  Despite the psychedelic appearance, Shirley designed it “especially for the imitation of antique ceramics, mosaic, and lava pottery-ware, and […] reproductions of the works of ancient maters”.  Interestingly, articles written on the subject of Sicilian ware prior to the 80’s describe it as being reminiscent of art deco, probably due to the shape.  Somehow, Shirley managed to create a glassware that was both in vogue and yet avant garde.

Our piece is representative of the Sicilian ware style– most works were squat with a narrow opening, and were mostly vases, though lamps were also produced.  While the grand majority of Sicilian ware is black, there are some pink or raspberry examples.  Though the name relates to components of the glass and not the decoration, most have the large brightly colored pieces of glass (backed in white so they could be seen more clearly) and gilding, like ours.  Rarely there are some with decorations over this.  Interestingly, illustrations in some of Mr. Shirley’s patents include ‘oriental’ figures, which was a popular motif at the time, though there are no known examples of this design in existence.

To view this piece, and other fine examples of Mount Washington glass from our collections, please come visit our current exhibition, Gilded Age Grandeur, on display until June 23, 2013.


Fluid Viscosity and Paper Marbling

Text by Gregory Phillipy, Curator of Education

What is viscosity?

Viscosity is the measurement of the rate at which liquids move.  Think of the thickness a fluid has:  Water is thin and syrup is thicker, so therefore syrup has a higher viscosity than water.  Some liquids can move very fast (water and milk) having a low viscosity and others are slower (dish soap and honey) having a high viscosity. 

Paper marbling is the art of creating colorful patterns by applying high-viscosity liquid over low-viscosity liquid.   Taking advantage of the adage that, “oil and water do not mix,” this art form is based on controlling the flowing qualities of fluid movement.

Since the late 19th century, a boiled extract of the carrageenan-rich algae known as Irish moss (Chondrus crispus), has been employed to create the mucilaginous and highly viscous solution upon which the colored dyes and paints are applied. Today, many artists use carrageenan extracted from seaweed.   In recent years, a synthetic size made from methylcellulose, a common ingredient in instant wallpaper paste, is often used as a medium upon which to float acrylic and oil paints.  Some artists use ordinary shaving cream as a viscous medium.  The point is that these media will support a layer of higher viscosity liquid upon which to float colors for a design.

Colors made from pigments are mixed with a surfactant such as ox gall. Sometimes, oil or turpentine may be added to a color to achieve special effects.

The special tools of the trade are brushes, a deep tray, pigments, cattle gall and tragacanth.  It is believed to be invented in the thirteenth century Turkistan.  This decorative art then spread to China, India and Persia and Anatolia.  Turkish Ottoman calligraphers and artists used marbling to decorate books, imperial decrees, official correspondence and documents.  New forms and techniques were perfected in the process and Turkey remained the center of marbling for many centuries

This summer in July, Turkish artist Baki Cavlazolgu will teach at Children’s Art Camp at the TAMU University Art Galleries. 

TAMU Art Galleries Summer Art Camp 2013

For Children Ages 7 – 12

Cost: $50.00 per child – Registration limited to 20 students

Wednesday, July 24 – Friday July 26  1:00 – 4:00

Wednesday at the Stark Galleries

1:00 – 1:30 Registration/ check in: rules and introduction to the Art Galleries

1:30 – 2:30 Stained Glass/ Glassmaking Workshop:  Featuring Runyon Collections from the Forsyth Galleries. Campers learn about how stained glass is made and also about artistry as they create patterns for their own beautiful mosaic stained glass image! No glass cutting or soldering required.

2:30 – 3:00 snack time and games*

3:00 – 4:00 Frederick Remington and Western Storytelling Art

Thursday at the Stark Galleries

1:00 – 2:15 Turkish Delight and the Art of Paper Marbling:  with Turkish Artist Baki Cavlazoglu learn the art of true paper marbling history and technique to make your own colorful designs from the traditions of Turkey.

2:15 – 2:45 snack time and games*

2:45 – 4:00 Tai Chi Fan:  Learn this ancient Chinese martial art celebrated as a healthy activity and as a visual performance art form using a traditional Chinese fan.  Taught by Dr. Suzanne Droleskey and sponsored by the Confucius Institute. 

Friday at the Stark Galleries

1:00 – 2:15 Fun Photography:  with Gustavo Castillo: Campers will enjoy making photo techniques using wet plate and cyanotype styles of photography which do not require a camera.  We will also play games based on photography themes. 

2:15 – 2:45 snack time and games*

2:45 – 4:00 Mask Making: Become anyone (or anything) you want to be.  Make a mask that reflects your inner self.   Campers will explore the history and uses of mask from around the world.  We will use colored papers, tape, pipe cleaners and other materials to make our own masks.

*(Children bring snacks from home) Water and lemonade supplied by camp.  All art materials supplied at camp.

Payment:  Cash or check made out to University Art Galleries

Contact: Trudy Six

University Art Galleries, Texas A&M University