It was huge. It was very heavy. It was very, very orange and very seventies. 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.

www.rubylane.com

Like this orange bowl, it was made by Chalet Artistic Glass in Cornwall, Ontario, producing their unique organic modern forms from the 1962 to 1975. The company originated in Montreal as Les Industries de Verre et Miroirs in 1958, but changed names to Murano Glass in 1960 to reflect the origins of the glass blowers and to add status to the products they produced.

Murano Glass was Canada’s first handmade decorative glassware company. It was founded by three master glass artisans from Venice, Italy: glasscutter Angelo Tedesco, glassblowers Luigi Tedesco (his brother) and Sergio Pagnin (his brother-in-law). As the business expanded, additional glassblowers were hired from Italy, as well as talented assistants from Cornwall and the nearby St. Regis Mohawk Reserve at Akwesasne.

Early production was in the style of traditional Venetian glassware, ornate, garishly colourful, 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 Angelo Tedesco, who then was General Manager, and the glassblowers that Canadian buyers wanted a much simpler style, something that they could live with and enjoy. When production shifted to the fluid lines and heavy free-form style of what is known as stretch glass, sales began to soar, and their work became a Canadian design icon. In late 1962, the company changed its name again, calling themselves Chalet Artistic Glass and making a direct link 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 highly skilled artisans. Chalet Glass would become a delightfully accurate portrayal of a particular aesthetic period of Canadian taste in the second half of the 20th century.

The vivid jewel tones of Chalet Glass caught everyone’s attention in the 1960’s. The brilliant transparent high chroma colours were delightfully appealing, and the organic, flowing shapes were anything but boring. The company’s range included centrepieces, bowls, vases, candleholders, baskets, goblets, birds and a line of animals that were wildly popular. Chalet Glass reached far into the United States and Commonwealth markets, offering more than four hundred shapes. Its success was attributed to the beauty, novelty, and affordability of its products.

Chalet 7 Lorraine catalog p 2 auto correct copy

Although many small pieces of Chalet glass were blown into moulds, the large heavy pieces were blown and worked by hand and furnice. The molten glass was pushed and pulled using a variety of simple tools to create the final shape, and without the use of moulds, every piece was unique and one off. The final free-form result was so fluid that it could only be described as a flight of the imagination. The curves vary from gentle to dramatic, and complemented the living and dining room decor of the period.

Not all Chalet pieces are marked, but you can easily identify Chalet Glass pieces by the sandblasted “Chalet CANADA” logo on the bottom and a gold foil decal (some piece also have an ‘E’ for Eaton’s or a double ‘B’ mark for Birks, indicating where they were sold). The word ‘Chalet’ appears in calligraphic lettering with th crossbar of the letter ‘t’ formed by a glassmaker’s blow pipe with a glob of molten glass at one end. Both details reinforced the idea of skilled handcraftsmanship and the power of the hand made object.

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Until 1965, Chalet Glass had only one sales office, but by 1966 sales exploded, and they added six foreign representatives in the U.S. Curiously, there were also distributors in Johannesburg, South Africa bringing the work to their markets, and another in London, England servicing the large UK market. By 1972, Chalet Glass had forty employees, and the expectation was that the workforce would increase to 200 by the following year. However, by 1974 the company had serious financial issues and, and with sales dropping off, increasing knock offs and expensive overhead, they were completely bankrupt by 1975. An entrepreneur Maurice Jaslow, in partnership with Angelo Rossi, a skilled glass artisan, bought the business, brand names, and equipment and created a new lighting company that would also go bust a few year later. This marked the official end of Chalet Artistic Glass and the final chapter for one of Canada’s top design brands of the swinging 60’s.

Visit Chalet Vintage Art Glass Gallery for more information.

Conrad Biernacki is a influential curator of Canadian design, and a programs manager at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Reprinted with permission from Antique67. Image courtesy of Ruby Lane Antiques.
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