Fig. 1: Steuben produced this classically inspired vase in a range of colors. L to R: Rosaline vase, ca. 1922–27, unmarked, shape 2648, handblown glass (2018.20.43). Gold Aurene vase, ca. 1905–06, engraved “Aurene 511,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.69). Green Jade vase, ca. 1929-1933, acid-stamped “STEUBEN,” shape 2648, handblown glass (2018.20.89). Blue Aurene vase, ca. 1920–33, engraved “Steuben Aurene 2648,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.42). Gold Aurene vase, ca. 1920–33, engraved “Steuben Aurene 2648,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.71). 

Unexpected Color: A Journey Through Glass showcases the Thomas N. Armstrong III Collection of Steuben Glass, a recent gift to The Newark Museum of Art in Newark, New Jersey. Many people are familiar with the clear crystal stemware, vases, and figurines that Steuben Glass, Inc., produced from 1933 until closing in 2011.1 Many may not know that the company originally produced iridescent and brightly colored art glass (Fig. 1). The exhibition explores this early chapter in Steuben’s history by revisiting the experimentation and artistry of two visionaries who created and celebrated this vivid glass. Frederick Carder (1863–1963) designed these vibrant works between 1903 and 1933 and Thomas N. Armstrong III (1932–2011) collected and displayed glass in his personal collection in a variety of settings during the 1990s and 2000s. Carder’s colorful Steuben creations have not been produced since the 1930s. Armstrong’s innovative vision dramatically expands our understanding of how this glass can be seen and contemplated, in ways that unexpectedly transcend the original era, style, and function of these brilliantly hued creations.

Beginning in 1880, Carder trained and worked as a designer at Stevens & Williams in the glassmaking center of Stourbridge, England. He studied Greek, Roman, Venetian, and Asian glass and ceramics in English museums, translating them into new designs throughout his career. He was a voracious scholar of traditional glassmaking techniques and the latest technological and stylistic innovations (Fig. 2). In 1903, Carder came to the United States where he cofounded Steuben Glass Works with Thomas G. Hawkes (1846–1913).

Left  Fig. 2: Carder’s interest in Art Nouveau design is evident in this group. L to R: Gold Aurene vase, ca. 1905, engraved “Aurene 158,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.6). Gold Aurene vase, ca. 1904–05, engraved “Aurene 130,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.66). Gold Aurene vase with pulled-feather decoration, ca. 1910, engraved “Aurene 649,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.64). Right  Fig. 3: Armstrong New York City apartment with Steuben glass, John James Audubon prints, and antique furniture, 2017. Photograph by Joshua McHugh (before gift to The Newark Museum of Art). 

For his part, Thomas N. Armstrong III studied art history and architecture at Cornell University and museum administration at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts, graduating in 1954 and 1967, respectively. He served as director of several American museums, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Andy Warhol Museum. He made his mark in the art world by dramatically expanding the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum between 1974 and 1990.

While he loved mid-20th-century American Abstract Expressionism, Armstrong focused his personal collection on works—Steuben glass, animal bronzes, and natural prints—that did not conflict with the collections of the museums he directed. The first Steuben object he acquired was a classically inspired Gold Aurene vase, similar to the one shown on the right in Figure 9. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Armstrong collected more Steuben works. He created visual conversations between the glass, artwork, and furnishings in his and his wife’s New York apartment and summer home. They saw the glass as both functional and artistic, using it when entertaining (see fig. 3).

Left  Fig. 4: Blue Aurene vase with pulled handles, ca. 1920–33, engraved “Aurene 2766,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.39). Right  Fig. 5: Plum Jade Chang vase, ca. 1924–33, unmarked, shape 6112, handblown, double acid-etched, cased glass (2018.20.60A). 

Fig. 6: Carder’s designs reveal his historical and global glassmaking inspirations. L to R: Pair of Celeste Blue and colorless candlesticks, ca. 1920–33, gold triangle paper label “STEUBEN/MADE IN/CORNING, N.Y./U.S.A.,” shape 2956, handblown, optic-ribbed glass (TR81.2017.2A, B). Lent by the Thomas N. Armstrong III Family. Celeste Blue Matsu-no-ke decoration, applied rims, and colorless compote, ca. 1920-1933, unmarked, shape 3305, handblown glass (2018.20.21). Light Blue Jade center bowl with applied flint white ring handles and knob, ca. 1924–29, unmarked, shape 2942, handblown glass (2018.20.19). Light Blue Jade vase, ca. 1924–29, acid-stamped fleur-de-lis “STEUBEN,” shape 6112, handblown, cased glass (2018.20.53).  

These shimmering Gold Aurene vases reflect how Steuben Glass Works and other American and European art glass companies responded to popular interest in glass unearthed during nineteenth- and early twentieth-century archaeological excavations; the ancient objects had become iridescent as a result of being buried in the ground for centuries. To meet demand, glass companies developed their own chemically crafted versions of iridescent glass. Consumers loved the swirling Art Nouveau style, classical forms, and movement-filled colors of this lustrous glassware. Such popularity helped Steuben establish its reputation as a manufacturer of beautifully designed and handcrafted luxury art glass.

Consumer interest also inspired Carder to create some of his most brilliant glass colors. He patented his iridescent Gold Aurene in 1904 and introduced Blue Aurene in 1905, the latter achieved by adding cobalt to the Gold Aurene formula (Fig. 4). This Blue Aurene vase is a prime example of the extraordinary quality of Steuben’s craftsmanship and design. The handles were pulled from the molten sphere of the vase body into a shape with classical references. The hot glass was then treated with a series of metallic sprays and heat to create tiny lines that reflect and refract light and to produce a matte surface. Highlights of pink, violet, and green swirl across the surface as one’s eye shifts, creating the illusion of movement.

Left  Fig. 7: Green Cluthra vase, ca. 1929–33, acid-stamped “STEUBEN,” Shape 7412, handblown, cased glass (2018.20.18). Right  Fig. 8: Pair of Mirror Black and Ivory pair of candlesticks, ca. 1932, oval silver paper label “STEUBEN,” Shape 7492, handblown, mold-assisted glass (2018.20.35A,B). 

Fig. 9: Armstrong New York City apartment, 2017. L to R: Gold Aurene vase, ca. 1920–33, engraved “Steuben Aurene 3285,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.78). Gold Aurene vase, ca. 1920-33, engraved “Steuben Aurene 2744,” iridized handblown, mold-assisted glass (2018.20.72). Pair of Wisteria candlesticks, ca. 1930–33, unmarked, Shape 7032, handblown, dichroic glass (2018.20.63A, B). Gold Aurene vase, ca. 1920–33, engraved “Steuben,” shape 2683, iridized handblown glass (2018.20.76). Photograph by Joshua McHugh (before gift to The Newark Museum of Art). 

Figure 6 shows a selection of works reflecting the many influences on Carder’s work. The Celeste Blue optic-ribbed candlesticks and the clear Crystal and Celeste Blue compote reveal the influence of Venetian glassblowing and flameworking traditions. Carder built upon his English training when designing the Matsu-no-ke compote. Matsu-no-ke translates as “Spirit of the Pine Tree” and refers to the naturalistic crimped and applied decoration. Stevens & Williams created and registered the name in 1884, responding to the period craze for all things Japanese. Throughout his career, Carder also designed forms inspired by ancient Greek and Roman glass, such as the Light Blue Jade and Alabaster center bowl with its ring handles. In addition, Carder designed his Jade glass colors to imitate Chinese porcelains and glazes as well as the qualities of the mineral jade. In this vase, outer layers of Blue Jade cover an inner layer of Alabaster, heightening the intensity and opacity of the shiny blue glass.

Earlier in his career Carder had designed cameo glass for Stevens & Williams in England, a technique in which multilayered glass was engraved to create figural patterns, as with ancient cameos. At Steuben, however, he virtually transformed this process by creating Japanese, Chinese, and Art Deco-inspired patterns, such as the double-acid-etched Chang pattern in Plum Jade seen in figure 5. A beeswax-based resist was painted over stencils on the glass, which was then dipped in an acid bath. This cut away the surface and exposed the inner layer of glass, or, as in this example, created a lighter Amethyst where the inner Flint White gleams through the outer layers of acid-cut glass.

Carder also drew upon historical glassmaking techniques to develop bubble filled Cluthra and Cintra glass (Fig. 7 and Fig. 12). For these popular Steuben wares, the molten glass was rolled on a marver, a smooth metal surface, covered in crushed glass. Those bits melted into the molten glass that was then stretched as the form was blown and shaped. In Cluthra, chemicals added to the crushed glass created bubbles. When they were deemed the correct size, the molten object was cased in clear glass that trapped and froze the bubbles. For Cintra, a much finer crushed glass was used without the chemicals, though the flecks of color create a similar visual motion.

Fig. 10: Armstrong Fishers Island house with Steuben glass, ceramic and bronze sculpture, and Ray Parker acrylic on canvas painting, Untitled (1970), 2017. Photograph by Joshua McHugh. 

While Carder preferred sinuous, naturalistic Art Nouveau forms or classically inspired shapes, by the mid-1920s, he bowed to popular demand for Art Deco styles. The results included striking forms such as the high contrast, streamlined Mirror Black and Ivory candlesticks (Fig. 8). The horizontal grooves on the tube of the candlestick focus attention on the straight form. Carder also offered clear versions of his designs. When he became art director of the Corning Architectural Glass Division in 1933 and new designers replaced him at Steuben Glass, Incorporated, clear optical Crystal glass became the signature company style. Decades later, Armstrong would favor Carder’s colorful glass, but he also collected examples of clear Steuben glass for comparison.

Armstrong incorporated his collection into the traditional furnishings of his family’s 1920s Colonial Revival summer home on Fishers Island in Long Island Sound. As in his New York apartment (Fig. 3), each object was carefully considered for its relationship to nearby artwork and furnishings as well as the light and landscape outside. For instance, purple Amethyst glass visually interacts with the John James Audubon prints and the color and shapes of the furnishings shown here. In 2003, a fire destroyed the summer house, but thanks to the efforts of the fire department and neighbors, many of the furnishings and collections were rescued.

Left  Fig. 11: Interior, Fisher Island house with John Gregory bronze sculpture, Young Panther (1931), and Blue Aurene vase with applied decoration, ca. 1927, engraved “Steuben Aurene 6297,” iridized handblown glass (2018.20.37). Photograph by Joshua McHugh (before gift to The Newark Museum of Art). Armstrong curated these visual relationships throughout the house, connecting the glass colors and forms to the artwork and furnishings inside and to the garden and natural landscape outside. Right  Fig. 12: Interior, Fishers Island house with bronze animal sculptures and Norman Bluhm oil on canvas painting, Open Red (1959). L to R: Orange Cintra charger with applied blue rim, ca. 1929, unmarked, handblown glass (TR81.2017.6A). Lent by the Thomas N. Armstrong III Family. Orange Cintra compote, ca. 1929, acid-stamped “STEUBEN,” shape 3179, handblown glass (TR81.2017.8). Lent by the Thomas N. Armstrong III Family.  Orange Cintra vase with applied blue rim, ca. 1929, acid-stamped “STEUBEN,” shape 334, handblown glass (TR81.2017.9). Lent by the Thomas N. Armstrong III Family. Photograph by Joshua McHugh (before gift to The Newark Museum of Art). A retrospective of Bluhm’s art will be on view at the Newark Museum of Art from February 13-May 3, 2020. 

After the fire, Armstrong built a modernist home of glass and steel on the same island site (Fig. 10). He furnished it with mid-century Abstract Expressionist art that, now retired, he was free to collect. Only the Steuben glass and bronze animal sculptures were brought from the earlier house. They were displayed in innovative juxtapositions alongside mid- and late-twentieth-century paintings, sculpture, and ceramics (Fig. 11). The Celeste Blue candlesticks, clear Crystal vase, other Steuben glass, and artwork are visible through the glass walls, visually interacting with both the interior objects and exterior landscape.

Unexpected Color spotlights these interactions and reveals ways of looking at and thinking about glass (Fig. 12). Carder’s colorful Steuben creations have not been produced since the 1930s, yet Armstrong’s unique vision dramatically expands our understanding of how this glass can be seen, in ways that transcend its original era, style, and use. 

1. Steuben Glass Works (1903–1918), then Steuben Division, Corning Glass Works (1918–1933), and finally Steuben Glass, Incorporated (1933–2011) was located in Corning, Steuben County, New York, which inspired the company names. 

Unexpected Color: A Journey Through Glass is on view through Spring 2022 at The Newark Museum of Art in Newark, New Jersey. The exhibition was curated by Amy Simon Hopwood, associate curator of decorative arts, and Stephen Milne, guest curator and exhibition design consultant. For more information about the exhibition, call 973.596.6550 or visit 

Amy Simon Hopwood is associate curator of decorative arts at The Newark Museum of Art in Newark, New Jersey. 

All glass works shown were designed by Frederick Carder and produced by Steuben Glass Works (1903–1918) or Steuben Division, Corning Glass Works, (1918–1933). All glass works shown are from the Thomas N. Armstrong III Collection, Gift of the Thomas N. Armstrong III Family 2018, unless noted. All photographs by Richard Goodbody/Newark Museum, unless noted.

This article was originally published in the 20th Anniversary (Spring/Summer 2020) issue of Antiques & Fine Art magazine, a fully digitized version of which is available at AFA is affiliated with