Cut glass exhibit honors convention’s return to Louisiana

Silver linings

t’s the case of the missing horse.

The super-sized punch bowl with the silver lining was presented on March 10, 1904, by the Crescent City Jockey Club in New Orleans to … that’s where the inscription below the bowl’s rim runs out.

“We don’t know,” Suzanne Sexton says. “But that’s part of why we like to find the pieces with sterling silver. There are some collectors who will say that these pieces aren’t true cut glass pieces because they’re lined with sterling silver, but we say the silver is important, because it provides us with documentation.”

Suzanne Sexton collects cut glass with her husband, Gray Sexton. Eighty pieces from their collection of 1,500 are on display in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s exhibit, “American Brilliant Cut Glass: A Silver Lining.”

The show, which runs through Sept. 24, also commemorates the return of the American Cut Glass Association’s annual convention to New Orleans after 25 years. Suzanne Sexton is chairing the event, which runs July 30 through Aug. 2, and includes a trip to the museum.

“We’ll also be showing some of our pieces in a smaller rarity show in New Orleans,” she says.

But the rarity show at the convention’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel base won’t include silver embellishment, which makes the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s show special.

“This is the first exhibit of its kind — the first showing of silver-embellished glass — in any museum in the country,” says William Meek, who suggested the idea last summer to LASM curator Elizabeth Weinstein.

Meek is director of Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, Florida, and former director of the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum in Lafayette. He also is curator of the Sextons’ rarity show in New Orleans.

Meek was on hand last week to watch over the installation of the Sextons’ treasures, ranging from punch bowls to sachet jars. Treasure is an appropriate word for these pieces when considering the collectors’ pursuit, which began 40 years ago in Houston for Gray Sexton.

The Baton Rouge lawyer was lost while driving in the city’s downtown area and stopped at a house for directions. The owner was Herb Wiener, one of the world’s foremost dealers in American Brilliant cut glass, which debuted in 1886. It was hand-cut, but made on an assembly line, and was named the world’s most superior cut glass later that year at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Gray Sexton bought several pieces that day, and he and his wife have since been on a continuous treasure hunt, with each piece equipped with its own set of clues.

“American Brilliant cut glass was made mostly in Corning, New York, and Toledo,” Suzanne Sexton says. “They stopped making it after World War I.”

The Corning Museum of Glass has provided two short videos for the exhibit, explaining the history and process of how cut glass was made during the American Brilliant era. Historical footage shows workers peering through glass pieces while pressing them against stone wheels.

“They started with what was called a blank with no pattern, and each worker would do one pattern, then hand it off to the next worker,” Suzanne Sexton explains. “They were cutting in reverse, because they had to do it looking through the glass.”

Finished pieces often were sent to outside vendors for the silver work, and the silver patterns most times complement those in glass.

“Most of it is Gorham silver, some of it is Tiffany,” Suzanne Sexton says. “And many times they are inscribed, which is good for documentation.”

This is where the treasure hunt becomes fun, because a few engraved words can open a door to history.

For instance, the sparkle in the large punch bowl at the exhibit’s entry is as brilliant today as when it was presented to the chairman of the Olympics in 1905.

And though the winning horse’s name was never engraved on the 1904 punch bowl, part of the mystery can be solved with a little research. According to the Special Collections and Archives at Loyola University in New Orleans, the Crescent City Jockey Club was established in 1892 at what is now the New Orleans Fair Grounds.

For 16 years, the club ran a winter racing season from mid-December until early April, so this horse was one of its winners. The proof is in the silver lining at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum.