O’town’s Jewel Box Museums: Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

You may think that to experience fine art, you have to go to New York or Boston or DC, but there are vibrant, exciting museums within a 75 minute ride of New Tampa. One example is the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (CHM). It is eclectic, personal and small enough to be appreciated in an evening’s visit.

CHM is located at 445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, just north of Orlando (I4 East to Exit 87East, Fairbanks Ave, to Park Ave. North). Home to the most complete collection of Tiffany art in the world, its galleries are devoted to stained glass, vases, lampshades, paintings and sketches, jewelry and a chapel by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Tiffany Studios and a handful of other artists of the 1860’s to 1920’s.

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was an artist and designer of the Art Nouveau period, who is most well known today for his work in stained glass windows and lampshades. He was the founder of Tiffany Studios which, in addition to the aforementioned stained glass, produced other household decorative objects. Louis’ father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, owned a gift store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, which carried stationary, sterling and jewelry and is today known as Tiffany and Co. Yes, THAT Tiffany!

On Friday nights, in addition to visiting galleries, you can listen to ensembles, jazz bands, flute trios and other musical entertainment. They’ll perform on one side of the museum and then move to the other, so you can enjoy the music no matter which side you’re on. Even three rooms away, you can hear the flutes, violins or saxophones softly drawing you on, making a more complete creative experience by adding performance art to fine art.

In the McKean Pavilion, in back of CHM proper, artists demonstrate various techniques used by Tiffany. Stained glass panel productions (how the glass is selected, marked, cut and reassembled), glass fusing and mosaic (imbedding beads, medallions, metal bits or other pieces of glass within the glass, pleating or layering glass and tilework) and lampshade production (how glass is curved, cut, pieced and put together to form the famous Tiffany lamps) were recent demonstrations. The demonstrations are one and a half to two hours long, but you don’t have to arrive when they start or stay for the whole time. The demonstrations are NOT hands on because glasswork is dangerous, using sharp knives and high temperature blowtorches. The glass artists will answer any questions you may have and you are invited to come right up to the work area, where you can examine the different kinds of glass.

Current exhibits are “Orientalism-An Eye for the Exotic,” how Eastern art influenced European and American art. Not only Japanese, but also elements of Persian, Algerian, Turkish and Indian art were incorporated into art of the Victorian and Edwardian age. Side by side displays of the Eastern and Western piece show the direct influence. To see a painting of a magnolia by a Japanese artist duplicated in a glass panel is breathtaking.

“The Quest for Beauty: Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Life and Art” is a retrospective of Tiffany’s life, including examples of his childhood drawings, watercolors he did on his “European Graduation Tour,” and the history of the Tiffany studios, all organized chronologically. This exhibit spotlights how he developed and grew as an artist. Extensive notes on his life and outside influences, on his family, colleagues, business and employees are also included in this exhibit.

There is an award for “Proficiency in Drawing, July 1, 1864,” next to a series of sketches and oils Tiffany did as a teenager that shows just want a fine artist he was. The delicacy of his work, the care translated into everything he did. You can compare the sketches of Arabs with the sketches he did for the chapel and see how his travels affected his later art.

Some of the stained glass is displayed in double sided cases, so you can examine the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ side. Since glass art is meant to be viewed with a light source behind it, usually in a window, the wrong side is generally on display. To see it up close, you have to wonder how it is possible that the same piece of glass on the right side is translucent, delicate, as thin as gossamer, and on the wrong side, wrinkled, opaque, rough looking. You can examine the leading strips, how they are wrapped so just a bit shows in the front but the back is full of blobs and solder.

The reinstallation of the “Tiffany Jewelry, Enamels and Metalworks Gallery” will be completed within the next few weeks, with the opening scheduled for March 4, 2008. This redesigned gallery will include new, more incisive notes and a ‘fresh look.’

The permanent exhibits include glassmaking techniques and the vases and lamp rooms. Make sure you look up. The tops of the ten foot high display cases are crowded with even more vases. Everywhere you turn is something different and beautiful. If you can’t find a piece in your favorite color, shape, sheen or texture, then you just have to look at the next display.

The Arts and Crafts Movement of 1860 to 1920 gallery contains furniture by Stickley, Burne-Jones, Tobey and others in addition to Tiffany. Ceramics, paintings and table displays of the era with sketchpads and quills complete the room. There is even a cuspidor (spittoon) in the corner, a necessity in and chewing tobacco-addicted household.

The jewel of the museum is the chapel interior designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. There is a “Madonna and Child” and a “Lamentation” in stained glass. The stages Tiffany used to in developing the face of Joseph are displayed outside the chapel. Behind the altar, there is a mosaic wall of peacocks with a crown hovering over them. In the sacristy, is a large baptismal font.

If you are a Tiffanyholic or glass fanatic, it’s easy to spend a whole day here. For most museum hoppers, a few hours will suffice. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is located at 445 North Park Avenue in Winter Park. It is reachable by phone (407-645-5311) or on the web at http://www.morsemuseum.org/. Open Tues-Sat, 9:30 to 4, Sunday from 1 to 4 and Fridays, November through April from 4 to 8 pm. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for students; under 12 and Friday evenings are free.

Published in NTNN on Feb 22,2008. Vol 16, issue 4

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