But why are they in a museum exhibit?Because Steuben glass is more than just nice tableware, says Donald Albrecht, curator of "Glass and Glamour: Steuben's Modern Moment, 1930-1960." Steuben is an example not only of modernist design, but of a company using a particular moment in time to make its product a household name."Glass and Glamour" opens at the Museum of the City of New York on Friday and runs through April 25.
The 200 objects in the show are from museums and private collections all over the world. The show focuses on how Steuben linked its image to the glamour of New York City and the newness of the modernist aesthetic in the middle decades of the 20th century.
"They connected themselves to New York City, which was then the ultimate kind of modern metropolis," Albrecht said.
"When you bought a piece of Steuben, you were buying a piece of Manhattan glamour."
Steuben, a division of Corning Glass Works, was founded in 1903 and turned out glass designs that were colored and highly decorative, with elements of Art Nouveau style, Albrecht said.
But in the early 1930s, facing financial difficulties, the company decided to take a risk at something new. It hired industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague, who advised the glassmaker to try this "modern" aesthetic that was starting to be all the buzz, and what was more important, to brand the product as a symbol of a luxurious lifestyle.
With Teague's guidance, the company created wares that were simple, like plain sphere vases, or based in industrial designs, like a bowl made from a mold used for car headlights.
Arthur Amory Houghton Jr., a Steuben family member who took over running the company, carried on with Teague's plans with designer Sidney Waugh and managing director John Monteith Gates.
The coalition between the three helped propel Steuben into a name of distinction.
They opened a store in New York, advertised in all the best and popular New York magazines, and looked to industrial design to come up with creations that made a statement.
Using exceptionally clear and colorless glass developed by Corning for optical purposes, they created tableware and other decorative household items.
"One of their lines was that this modern glass made every Steuben object as characteristic of modern life as the skyscraper and the airplane because it came out of a laboratory," Albrecht said.
They also commissioned artist-rendered pieces by such greats as Salvador Dali, Grant Wood and Georgia O'Keeffe, who designed motifs of human and animal forms that were etched into Steuben crystal. Many became museum pieces.
The elegance and beauty of these designs made Steuben "one of, if not the premier American brand" in the decorative arts, Albrecht said.
The exhibit marks the 100th anniversary of the company, which is rereleasing some designs from the era to coincide with the exhibit. The show will not travel.