Anonymous American Photographer
- Anonymous American Photographer
- A PETER GLASS TABLE, WITH ELABORATE MARQUETRY
- gelatin silver print
This daguerreotype shows a remarkable piece of 19th-century American hand-craftsmanship: a rosewood center table, with elaborate inlays, by one of the masters of the marquetry technique, Peter Glass. The table was almost certainly created as a showpiece. Its highly complex design – incorporating a radiating geometric pattern with delicately delineated floral motifs – and exquisite workmanship, were clearly intended to showcase the considerable skills of its maker. Glass's name (laterally reversed) is inscribed boldly upon the scroll-leg base, suggesting that this table may have been entered by Glass into a competition or exhibition. It would have been highly unusual for a maker to inscribe his name so prominently on a piece of furniture built for a client.
Peter Glass (1824 – 1901) was born in Germany and came to America as a young man in 1844, after having apprenticed at cabinetmaking and learning the rudiments of marquetry, for which he demonstrated a precocious talent. He initially settled in Massachusetts, and was in business in New York City at 13 Crosby Street in 1856. By 1857, however, he moved west to Wisconsin where he purchased property and became a farmer, while at the same time pursuing his career as a furniture maker.
Within the general field of furniture-making, marquetry was a specialty unto itself – difficult in practice, and mastered by few. With their beautiful, intricate patterns and flawless execution, Glass's creations had no corollary in the furniture of his day. His inlaid furniture earned him a silver medal from the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association (1850); a bronze medal by New York's American Institute (1856); and the prize for the 'best mosaic center table' at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Fair (1858), where it was noted that the table was 'one of the most splendid specimens of mosaic work that we have ever seen – an evidence of ingenuity, mechanical skill, and patient application worthy of the highest credit.'
It is possible that the daguerreotype offered here was made at one of these exhibitions. The formal presentation of the table upon a marble display platform, with its tilt-top folded down for the benefit of the camera, against what looks like an improvised background, makes a fair or exhibition setting plausible. It cannot be discounted that the daguerreotype was made at the behest of Glass himself, who may have desired a photographic record of his work that would have been far easier to transport than the piece itself. Regardless of the reason for its making, this daguerreotype is highly unusual in its focus upon a single object. Neither a portrait nor an occupational study, it is nonetheless an incomparable record of one of America's great craftsmen.
In recent years, Glass's work was featured in the exhibition Skin Deep: Three Masters of American Inlaid Furniture, at the Milwaukee Art Museum (2003). He was the subject of an article in The Magazine Antiques (1973), and is also treated in the book, American Folk Marquetry: Masterpieces in Wood (1998).