By Donald-Brian Johnson, Contributing Writer
Photos by Leslie Piña
These fused glass pieces from the fabulous ’50s combine an arresting mix of geometric and curved lines with a bold use of colors. Whatever your decorating scheme calls for–from eye-popping oranges to cool blues–the vast and vivid Higgins inventory is guaranteed to have what you’re looking for.
The Higgins saga began in 1948, with the opening of a Chicago-area studio by newlyweds Michael and Frances Higgins. The Higgins, both with extensive previous artistic experience, took it as their mission to revive the ancient art of glass fusing. Although popular in the past, fused glass had, by the mid-20th century, been abandoned in favor of blown glass.
Off Like a Rocket
The Higgins quickly learned what the early ’50s market wanted and turned their fusing technique to the production of such useful objects as bowls, plates, assorted serving dishes, lamps, clocks, and–a trend of the times–smoking accessories, particularly ashtrays of every shape and size.
At Dearborn, the Higgins adapted their handcrafted procedures to the demands of mass production, churning out endless houseware items in patterns with such vibrant, instantly enticing names as “Stardust”, “Barbaric Jewels”, “Arabesque” and “Mandarin”. As Dearborn’s promotional postcards of the time indicate, it was literally possible to set an entire table (except for the silver) with Higgins glass. Frances Higgins later recalled that the goal set for Higginsware at Dearborn was “a new line every six months”. If a particular pattern sold well, the couple were urged to adapt it to every size and shape imaginable. Soon, for example, simple serving plates gave way to “two-tier servers”, followed by “three-tier servers”. If the public might possibly buy it, the Higgins would create it.
Going Their Own Way
Michael Higgins died in 1999, Frances Higgins in 2004. The Higgins Studio is now under the ownership and direction of their longtime design associates Louise and Jonathan Wimmer. Pieces created today honor and expand on the traditions and of the past. This direct line of continuity means that glass objects in the distinctive Higgins style will continue to enchant collectors for many years to come.
A Dash of Glass Panache
The trick in using Higgins to accent a retro decor is, in some cases, to see beyond the original use of an object, to its use as you envision it. Perhaps your home has no need for a whopping 15″ freeform ashtray, no matter how brilliant its color scheme. That same ashtray, however, re-imagined as a generously-sized chip dish, will definitely brighten up the buffet line. Oversize vintage chargers, while perhaps too valuable for actual dining use, make wonderful place-markers when setting a period table. And Higgins cigarette boxes have a multitude of uses in addition to their original one, from change holders, to dresser vanities, to candy dishes.
The Higgins Studio was initially hailed as the home of “modern miracles with everyday glass”. Today, collectors continue to discover that “modern miracle”: the excitingly eye-catching appeal Higgins glass, both old and new, brings to any environment.
“We just try to make what looks good, anytime, in any place. Things that are lasting, and can be enjoyed for years to come.”
The Higgins Glass Studio is located at 33 East Quincy Street, Riverside, IL 60546; Ph: (708) 447-2787. www.higginsglass.com.
The Landing Pad is a recurring column on retro decor by Donald-Brian Johnson, who writes and lectures frequently on mid-20th century decorative arts. With photographer Leslie Piña, he is co-author of Higgins: Poetry in Glass (Schiffer Publishing), as well as Higgins: Adventures in Glass, and numerous other books on mid-century modern. He can be contacted at www.ceramicartsstudio.com.