It was huge. It was very heavy. It was very, very orange. And it was one of the strangest objects my parents ever owned.
Given pride of place in the centre of a small table in front of the dining room window, it glowed in the afternoon sunlight. And it’s still there today. I was intrigued by it as a teenager, and it still draws my attention many years later.
Identical to the orange bowl shown here, it was made by Chalet Artistic Glass in Cornwall, Ontario, in business from 1962 to 1975. The company actually began in Montreal as Les Industries de Verre et Miroirs in 1958, changing its name to Murano Glass in 1960. After a disastrous fire, the firm moved to Cornwall, 145 km to the southwest of Montreal, encouraged by financial incentives from the federal government. The company resumed production in May 1961. Murano Glass was located at 50 Harbour Rd., at the northwest corner with Edward St., in a 1919 brick building that was originally part of a huge late 19th-century cotton mill complex. (Today, many of the mill buildings remain standing and a few have been renovated and leased to new tenants. Sadly, the building occupied by the glassworks has been demolished.)
Murano Glass was Canada’s first handmade decorative glassware company. It was founded by three master glass artisans from Venice: glasscutter Angelo Tedesco, and glassblowers Luigi Tedesco (his brother) and Sergio Pagnin (his brother-in-law). As the business expanded, additional glassblowers were hired from Venice, as well as many assistants from Cornwall and the nearby St. Regis Mohawk Reserve at Akwesasne.
Early production was in the style of traditional Venetian glassware—ornate and elaborate. But when Sid Heyes from Toronto joined the firm as its first president, and Garry Daigle from Montreal became its first sales manager, they convinced general manager Angelo Tedesco and the glassblowers that Canadian buyers wanted much simpler styles. When production shifted to the fluid lines and heavy free-form style of what is known as stretch glass, sales began to soar. In late 1962, the company changed its name to Chalet Artistic Glass to make it obvious to consumers that this was a Canadian company producing Canadian designs for Canadian tastes. Although collectors today call these pieces “Chalet Glass,” the word “Artistic” was included in the company name to emphasize that their ware was handmade by skilled artisans.
The vivid jewel tones of Chalet Glass caught everyone’s attention in the 1960s. The brilliant transparent colours were delightfully appealing. The organic, flowing shapes were anything but boring. The company’s range included centrepieces, bowls, vases, candleholders, baskets, goblets, birds and animals. Chalet Glass reached far into the United States and Commonwealth markets, offering more than 400 shapes. Its success was attributed to the novelty, beauty and affordability of its products.
Although many small pieces of Chalet glass were blown into moulds, the large heavy pieces were blown and worked by hand. Without the use of moulds, no two examples were perfectly identical. The molten glass was pushed and pulled using a variety of simple tools to create the final shape. The curves vary from gentle to dramatic, and complemented the living and dining room decor of the period. The final free-form result was so fluid that it could only be described as a flight of the imagination.
The examples shown here reflect the three main types of Chalet Glass design. The blue bowl is relatively low, shallow and symmetrical, resembling a large bodacious blossom. The orange centrepiece is one of the most dramatic shapes made by Chalet Glass. The curling arms create a theatrical show of colour reminiscent of fireworks. The olive green vase is my favourite. It’s like the splash of a raindrop after impact.
You can easily identify Chalet Glass pieces by the sandblasted “Chalet CANADA” logo on the bottom. The word “Chalet” appears in a calligraphic lettering style to indicate the handmade quality of the company’s wares. The crossbar of the letter “t” is actually a glassmaker’s blow pipe with a gather (glob) of molten glass at one end. This, again, was meant to reinforce the idea of skilled handcraftsmanship. Some pieces also have “CORNWALL” sandblasted on the bottom.
But not all Chalet pieces are marked. Many only had stickers that rarely survive today. The most commonly found example is the one shown here. It was made in at least two asymmetrical oblong sizes and sometimes the silver and black colours are reversed. Chalet’s cranberry glass was also identified by a hangtag—a 2 by 3 inch cardstock tag hung from the piece by a decorative gold cord.
Until 1965, Chalet Glass had only one sales office, Tex Novelty in Montreal. Later, the distributor N.C. Cameron and Sons in Toronto was added. By 1966, Chalet had six foreign representatives. In the U.S., these were in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Fayetteville, New York. Remarkably, there were also distributors in Johannesburg, South Africa, and London, England. The English sales office lasted for only two years. While the South Africa link was dropped after one year, but picked up by another representative in Durban from 1969 until 1973. In the United States, distribution from Chicago continued uninterrupted, while the others fell away. From 1969 there was one additional distributor in New York. For 1974 and 1975, Chalet’s presence in the American market was handled solely by one of the largest distribution companies in the world, Riekes Crisa in Omaha, Nebraska. Chalet glassware marketed by Riekes Crisa had black and silver stickers shaped like an artist’s palette that read “HANDCRAFTED IN CANADA RIEKES CHALET LEAD CRYSTAL OVER 24% LEAD CONTENT” with the Riekes Crisa logo.
By 1972, Chalet Glass had 40 employees, including 15 from the St. Regis Mohawk Reserve, and the expectation was that the workforce would increase to 200 by the following year. In 1974, Sergio Pagnini replaced Sid Heyes as president, and Angelo and Luigi Tedesco became vice presidents. Garry Diagle remained as sales manager. But this reorganization did not solve the problems the company was having. And in 1975, the company went bankrupt. The business and equipment, but not the building, were bought at auction by entrepreneur Maurice Jaslow, in partnership with Angelo Rossi, a skilled glass artisan. Maurice Jaslow was the owner of Jaslow Glass Industries in Montreal. Angelo Rossi was born in the Italian glassmaking centre of Murano. His father and grandfather were glassblowers, and so are his four sisters. In fact, the Rossi family were glass blowers since the 14th century. Angelo Rossi had apprenticed with several master glassblowers in Murano and was now on his way to Caracas, Venezuela, with two glassblowing friends to attend a wedding. He stopped in Cornwall to visit some of the Chalet Glass artisans he knew from his hometown. The meeting and resultant partnership with Maurice Jaslow was purely by chance.
Prior to Chalet’s bankruptcy, the company mainly produced wine glasses and water goblets. But Angelo Rossi was not inclined to make this type of ware. Instead, a new company, Artistic Lighting, was established to make table lamps and ceiling lighting fixtures. It was the manufacturing plant for Jaslow Glass Industries. The firm soon grew to 120 employees. Most of its production was exported to the United States.
Unfortunately, Angelo Rossi had a serious work accident with the prognosis that he might never walk again. During this period, he sold his share of Artistic Lighting to Maurice Jaslow. But without Angelo Rossi overseeing production, the company suffered. Artistic Lighting folded and Jaslow Glass Industry shifted production to a Montreal plant. Jaslow Glass remained in business until 1998.
In 1981 Angelo Rossi established Rossi Artistic Glass in an existing building at 450 Seventh St. W. in Cornwall. (Built around 1961, it was first occupied by Angus MacDonald Construction Contractors and then Ideal Plumbing Supplies.)
The company had 25 employees and began producing Angelo Rossi’s now famous cranberry glass. The firm’s wares were distributed in both Canada and the United States.
In 1994, Angelo Rossi closed his company and moved back to Italy for family reasons. (The Cornwall site is now occupied by Campbell Pools.) But by 1996, he had new business partners, Joe Sicurella and his wife Mary, with plans to establish a glass studio in Niagara Falls. Since he first arrived in Cornwall, Angelo Rossi had always thought that his glassware would appeal to tourists. He simplified the company name to Rossi Glass and began production in Pyramid Place, 5400 Robinson St. (between the Skylon Tower and IMAX Theatre), a renovated 1910 brick building that was originally occupied by a metal fabrication company, Niagara Wire Weaving. Today, visitors can watch Rossi Glass artisans while listening to a recorded narration of the glassmaking process. An enormous showroom exhibits more than 250 shapes of glassware in a wide variety of colours www.rossiglass.com
But Angelo Rossi left Rossi Glass in 2001 and the current owners are Tony Pugliese and Mary Sicurella. They recently opened a second location in Niagara Falls, a satellite studio and retail outlet in the Maid of the Mist Marketplace.
Many pieces of Rossi Glass have the letter “R” impressed in the bottom when the glass was still in its molten stage. All pieces have a circular gold or silver foil sticker that reads “HANDMADE FAIT A MAIN Rossi Glass NIAGARA FALLS CANADA,” and a hangtag. Their products are distributed in both Canada and the United States.
After leaving Rossi Glass, Angelo Rossi went to the United States where he taught glassmaking at various universities. He was also a colour and production consultant for Fenton Art Glass in Williamstown, West Virginia, the largest manufacturer of handmade coloured glass in the United States. In 2004, he returned to Niagara Falls and began a new glassmaking studio and showroom in Souvenir City Headquarters, a large tourist complex at 4199 River Rd.
Angelo Rossi’s new business, Artistic Glassblowing Studio, produces a variety of decorative glassware, including many shapes in his signature cranberry colour.
While other colours of glass are purchased from the U.S. distributor of a German manufacturer, the company’s cranberry glass is made by mixing and melting all the raw ingredients. (Pure white sand is the basic component of all glass. Colours are achieved by mixing in different metal oxides, except for cranberry which is the result of adding 22 karat gold.) The cranberry glass formula has been perfected by Angelo Rossi and is a closely guarded secret. He makes his own cranberry glass because he believes that it is superior to what can be bought readymade.
A special prototype or a commission is sold with a DVD that documents the production of the exact piece. When purchased, the glass piece is engraved on the bottom with the glass artist’s signature. All Artistic Glassblowing Studio pieces have an oval gold foil sticker that reads “SOUVENIR CITY ARTISTIC GLASSBLOWING STUDIO” and a hangtag. On Angelo Rossi’s website, www.artisticglassblowing.com you can watch the company’s glass artisans at work on a live webcam.
In a couple of years, Angelo Rossi will open a much larger studio on the ground floor of a new upscale 58 storey Hilton Hotel currently under construction adjacent to the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort.
When searching for Chalet Glass, you’ll find other similar looking Canadian made examples that are either unmarked or have labels for companies such as Lorraine, Giovanni, and Chantili. These pieces are no less important than Chalet, and should not be overlooked. (Actually, Chantili was not a manufacturer but a Montreal distributor whose glassware was made primarily by Chalet. Chantili pieces have a sandblasted mark done in the Chalet style.) The importance of all these pieces will increase once researchers begin to document and publish the history and products of these companies.
For Angelo Rossi, he never would have thought that a stopover in Cornwall would have led to all this.
Why Collect Chalet Now
Several factors highlight the cultural importance of Chalet glass:
-Design historians appreciate its originality in shape and colour. Chalet Glass is a delightfully accurate portrayal of a particular aesthetic period of Canadian taste in the second half of the 20th century.
-One or two pieces of Chalet Glass are frequently bought by non-collectors to complement their retro decor, or as focal points in minimalist interiors.
-Print media such as the Toronto Star newspaper and Antique & Collectibles Trader magazine have recently included coverage of Chalet Glass. Editors are beginning to realize that their readers want to know about this topic.
-Chalet and Chantili glass were included in Judith Miller’s 2006 Collectibles Price Guide. Coverage in such an authoritative and widely read publication is a direct response to the need of collectors and antiques dealers to know more about this category of decorative arts.
-Chalet and Lorraine glass are represented in the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum.
-Chalet-style glassware is currently being made in China and distributed throughout Canada and the United States by Torre & Tagus www.torretagus.com . Whenever a line of vintage ware is reproduced, it usually indicates that consumer demand is so strong that the secondary (re-sale) market is unable to keep up with demand.
-Today, the Artistic Glassblowing Studio continues the Murano/Chalet/Rossi hand blown glass tradition that began in Montreal in 1958. Next year marks their 50th anniversary. Milestones like this, along with coverage in the media, increases public awareness and consumer demand for both vintage and new pieces.
Tips for Collectors
-Look for examples that have sandblasted marks or stickers so you are sure that the piece was made by Chalet.
-Examples that are marked with the letter “E” on the bottom were made for the Eatons chain of department stores. Pieces sold by Birks were marked with their back-to-back “BB” logo.
-Choose the largest and most dramatically shaped pieces. These are the most fun to enjoy at home, and will be the ones that prove to be the most collectible.
Studio Glass Movement
Today, we are familiar with glass artists working in their own studio or in a cooperative facility. But prior to the 1980s, Canada’s few independent glass artists had no choice other than renting “bench time” (access to the furnaces and equipment) in a glass factory since the cost of setting up an independent glass studio was so prohibitive
Some of Canada’s well known glass artists today, such as Brian Ashby of Bracebridge, Ontario, and Toan Klein of Toronto, launched their careers at places like Chalet and Lorraine. When these artists were able to set up their own workshops, they became part of the burgeoning Studio Glass Movement in Canada.
Today, students and graduates of glassmaking schools such as Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, find apprenticeships and employment in established facilities such as Angelo Rossi’s Artistic Glassblowing Studio in Niagara Falls.
C.M. Sheifert, photographs by Marcel Cognac, “How Canada Makes Venetian Glass,” Canadian Weekly, Sept 8-14, 1962, pp 10-13.
Betty Goodfellow, “Description, Tour Chalet Glass Factory, Cornwall, Ont.,” Glasfax Newsletter, pp 3-4, October, 1967.
Mark van Dusen, “Chalet Competes with the Best,” Standard-Freeholder, August 17, 1972.
Michael Herbert, “Glass Blowing is not for Everyone.” Standard-Freeholder, May 14, 1977.
“’Chalet Canada’ Glass was of High Quality,” Ontario Showcase, February 1978, pp 9-10.
Conrad Biernacki, “Chalet Home of Wild Colours, Dramatic Curves,” Toronto Star, October 2, 2004, p M16.
John Law, “A Life in Glass: Artist Angelo Rossi is home in Niagara Again,” Niagara Falls Review, March 4, 2006.
Peggy Tedder, “The Artists’ Way: Two Niagara Artisans Draw from Nature to bring Beauty into our Homes,” Interiors, October/November 2006, pp 62-65.
As yet, there are no books on Chalet glass, but several useful websites will expand your knowledge:
www.photobucket.com/albums/v359/MarioP/Chalet/?action=view¤t=NVECapture-1.flv (National Film Board interview with Angelo Tedesco of Chalet Glass, featuring glass artisan Sergio Pagnin, 1971)
Rossi Glass: Mouth-blown Art Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-888-301-8222
Artistic Glassblowing Studio, email@example.com, 1-866-344-0985
The author would like to thank Janet Holmes and Brian Musselwhite of the Royal Ontario Museum, Carolin McCourt and Coleen Payette of the Cornwall Public Library, Brad Cruxton of Glasfax, Maria Culp of Souvenir City Headquarters, Mario Panizzon, and glass artists Angelo Rossi, Toan Klein, and Brian Ashby for their generous assistance.
Conrad Biernacki is the programs manager at the Royal Ontario Museum and a frequent exhibition curator at various galleries and museums. He is writing a book on Blue Mountain Pottery to be published by the ROM in 2009. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org