Ruby Lane shop owner Eron Johnson features some 6000 pieces of furniture, architectural salvage, art, period lighting and exquisite finds in Steuben and Tiffany glass in his Denver, Colorado antiques shop. He is passionate about finding beauty in things unexpected, much like that of Tiffany art glass founder, Louis Comfort Tiffany. In the last couple years, Eron has reawakened his passion for collecting Tiffany art glass and sat down with Ruby Lane to discuss what inspires him.
Q. What is your earliest memory of Tiffany Art Glass entering your life?
A. I actually don’t remember the first time I saw a piece of Tiffany, but I remember people calling stained glass “Tiffany Glass” because nobody knew what it was. My first piece was a Tiffany lamp that I bought out of a feed store in Wheatridge, Colorado. It was literally sitting on a bale of hay with a sign that said, “Tiffany Lamp, $39.00.” It was a true Tiffany desk lamp. I had that for years and somewhere along the line I sold it but that was my first acquisition. After that, Tiffany became the magic word for quality and ingenuity. At the time it was first created, it was so novel and cutting edge for making light bulb covers for the newly invented electric lightbulbs.
Q. Can you recall the moment or special acquisition that turned you into a Tiffany collector?
A. In high school art class, my art teacher took a couple of students to a friend’s antique store and I saw stained glass windows and at the time they again called them “Tiffany Glass” which they weren’t really but they were so exciting and bright and colorful, I was totally hooked on the idea of having something like that someday. Going to antique shows I saw the first gold iridescent and decorated Tiffany art glass and it just became my love. That evolved into Art Nouveau in general and set the stage for everything since.
Q. Take us through the range of your collection.
A. Having not collected for many years because I got sidetracked with many other styles of antiques, in the last couple years, I became re-inspired to collect again after coming across some at an estate sale. Having been out of the loop for 30 years, I am just in the last couple years re-emerging and I consider myself almost to be a novice collector since there are so many people that have devoted their life to it – but I am just as passionate as those collectors. I also invite others to join in the quest. It has brought me a lot of joy.
Q. What part of the world of Tiffany Art glass excites you the most?
A. The part that excites me is finding pieces that maybe I have only seen in a book and once you have it in your hands, you learn so much just by handling it rather than looking at it through a display case. It’s the learning experience coupled with admiration for the ingenuity and beauty they create around you. I have a really good feel for what Tiffany was after and constantly impressed with what I find.
Q. What is your favorite period of production of Tiffany art glass?
A. My favorite are the earliest pieces where they were still figuring out what the glass would do and how to produce the effects with chemical reactions that made Tiffany famous later on. I like looseness that is shown in the crooked and oddly shaped pieces in the very beginning when they were first testing the limits of that they could do with that medium.
Q. How does your life and view of the world parallel that of the life of Louis Comfort Tiffany?
A. I relate so much to this quote by Tiffany, “I have always striven to fix beauty in wood, stone, glass or pottery, in oil or watercolor by using whatever seemed fittest for the expression of beauty, that has been my creed.” Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1916.
I am always in awe of people that are able to create beauty from things that on their own may not be beautiful. Tiffany was in a constant quest for beauty and he felt, like I do, that a lot of beautiful and best designs come from nature. He pulled the majority of his designs, especially early on, from nature. His later pieces became more classical, kind of based on Roman Egyptian designs. My father was a landscape architect and in learning about his gardens, I grew up with an appreciation for the natural landscape like Tiffany did.
Q. Which one of your Tiffany pieces is your favorite and why?
A. That would be like saying, “Which child is your favorite.” It’s very hard to choose. I would have to say my favorite is the last one I bought until I buy the next one. Probably though my very favorite is a really primitive one that I have from when they first started. It’s crudely done compared to later work and shows how far they came in their craft.
Q. What do you regard as your greatest success in your career to date?
A. Still being in business after 40 some years and still loving what I do and looking forward to finding something I haven’t seen before.
Q. If you weren’t an antique dealer, what would you have been in another life?
A. Good question. Architecture. Something to do with building buildings. I have always loved building and remodeling.
Q. The ultimate dream Tiffany piece to add to your collection – what would it be?
A. Oh one of the early whacky blown glass chandeliers with all gold Favrile balls hanging from chains, looking like something from a dream. His early pieces are not what we consider “beautiful” today but it is so over the top creative that I just love it. They mixed chains and metal and glass and it’s just wild. It almost looks like something out of an early Star Trek episode. You might look at them today and laugh, but it’s what really appeals most to me. Most are enormous but if I could, I would have one of those and hang it in my house. I have only seen them in old fuzzy black and white pictures.
Here are a few of the unique Tiffany treasures available at Eron Johnson Antiques on Ruby Lane.
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