Shedding light on Louis C.Tiffany

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Who would have thought 100 years ago that a colorful lampshade would become part of Americana? And that the man responsible for this uniquely American creation would so deeply affect Queens?

A current play that just opened at the Queens Museum of Art illuminates the private side of the Tiffany lamp's creator, while hinting at the extent of that effect.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of four children of Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Tiffany, created the famed Tiffany lamp after his friend Thomas Edison asked him to design a lampshade to lessen the glare of lamps made with his incandescent bulb.

The resulting unique, multicolored, decorative glass lampshades graced homes of America's rich during the Guilded Age. This progressive period between the Civil War and World War I saw the United States evolve from an agrarian society into an industrial power.

Tiffany's accomplishments included more than lamps with their petal glass designs, however. Drawing his inspiration from Europe's medieval cathedrals, he created stained glass windows for churches and mansions, and became a noted designer of interiors, including several rooms at the White House in the early 1880s, which brought him national attention.

He brought together talented artists and craftsmen to work at his Louis C. Tiffany and Associated Artists which in 1892 became Tiffany Glass and Decorating Co. Becoming a highly progressive employer of that era, race or gender did not matter to him. It was talent that counted. Tiffany also paid his employees excellent wages for that time.

Tiffany's glass factory had a direct impact on the local economy of Corona. In the 1880s, the semi-rural village consisted of residents of German, Irish, Swedish, English and Italian background.

Though established in Brooklyn, he moved his operation to a building in Corona on the northwest corner of 43rd Avenue and 97th place. After fire destroyed the factory, he moved across the street. The new building occupied the block between 43rd Avenue and the Long Island Rail Road tracks.

In 1902, after the death of his father, Louis also established Tiffany & Co.'s exclusive art jewelry department, becoming its first artistic director.

While his creations have received acclaim, the private Louis Tiffany remains largely unknown.

But Philip Jackson, weekend community programs coordinator for Queens Museum of Art, recently completed a project to bring to light Tiffany's elusive personal side.

Jackson drew from various sources to write a monologue: "Tiffany: The Man and His times."

A lifelong Queens resident, Jackson has written poetry, pop operas, a children's opera, several plays, and has been active in the arts most of his life.

He gleaned material from several books and from interviews with individuals, including Nancylee Dikeman who owns an extensive collection of Tiffany creations and shared personal recollections from Tiffany employees.

"She used to be in the presence of her father-in-law and many of the older men employed at the factory who would reminisce about old times," said Jackson.

Her father-in-law, John Dikeman, is mentioned in the script as a 12--year-old boy looking for work who Tiffany hired to sweep the floor of his factory and who rose to eventually become foreman of the glass department.

The original work premiered Saturday in the intimate setting of the QMA theater and featured Senior Theater Acting Repertory group member and Queens community theater veteran Jay Lilker as Louis Tiffany.

In the production, Lilker read the monologue script as if he were conversing with visitors to his home. Interspersed through the hour-long piece were color slide images of some Tiffany creations projected above the head of Lilker, who sat facing the audience.

At various intervals during the narration, popular songs from the 1890s were performed by a barbershop quartet, "Yes Indeed!," that musically transported the audience to that era.

"The quartet added a very special touch to the presentation," Jackson said. "They were very professional."

Jackson credited the museum's curator of education, Karen Vastky, with inspiring the idea to have an actor speak to people as the sole character.

Saturday's premiere was the sole performance given this year as part of Tiffany Month, held each February at QMA. The museum owns a large collection of Tiffany's work, part of which is on permanent display.

Next year Jackson hopes the performance can be presented several times during the month and acted from memory instead of done as a reading.

Jackson said he "came to the conclusion that he [Jackson] was a genius in what he did and that he was a very kind person.

"But he did have his moments. He could be egocentric," Jackson continued, emphasizing, "he was very kind in how he dealt with other people, which was very unusual for such a great man. I hope I conveyed some of that."

He added: "I hope that I conveyed to the audience a certain feeling of getting to know Tiffany the man. He was very private."

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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