Frederick Carder – Artist, Glassmaker, Innovator

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Glass sheets

Glass Heroes: Feature Story

Glass Heroes: Feature Story

Frederick Carder – Artist, Glassmaker, Innovator

Frederick Carder – Artist, Glassmaker, Innovator

One look and for Frederick Carder, it was love at first sight. As a young man, Carder spotted a glass replica of the Portland Vase, the most famous piece of Roman cameo glass. After seeing the vase at an artist’s studio, Carder made glass his life’s passion. He was 16.

Carder later described that experience as being “struck with the possibilities of glass.” Those possibilities developed into several technical and artistic discoveries in glassmaking – one of them being the renowned Steuben Glass brand that he co-founded.  

“Frederick Carder developed and refined innovative techniques still used today, but also developed a remarkable palette of colors and finishes in glass,” explained Rob Cassetti, senior director, Creative Services and Marketing at the Corning Museum of Glass.

“All of his contributions as an artist, inventor, and designer have had a lasting impact on American glassmaking,” he said.

Carder may have been destined to become a glassmaker, but he started as a potter. He was born in 1863 into a family that owned a pottery company in Brierly Hill, England. At age 14, he quit school to support the business. Quickly disenchanted with pottery, Carder took night courses in art, chemistry, electricity, and metallurgy.

Through his studies, Carder eventually met John Northwood and visited his studio, where Northwood’s Portland Vase replica sparked Carder’s love affair with glass.

While still a teenager, Carder began working with Northwood as a designer at a British company, Stevens & Williams. There he learned the techniques and processes involved in glass production and created beautiful works influenced by the Art Nouveau style. 

“All of his contributions as an artist, inventor, and designer have had a lasting impact on American glassmaking.” - Rob Cassetti, senior director, Creative Services and Marketing at the Corning Museum of Glass

In his free time, he traveled to museums across Europe, admiring other works of art and documenting his inspiration in a small notebook. He also bought a furnace to test glass, ceramics, or almost any material he could get his hands on.  

In 1903, Carder arrived in Corning, N.Y., with his wife and three children, where he was instrumental in launching the Steuben Glass Works. Steuben Glass became known for luxury crystal in a wide array of shapes and more than 140 vibrant colors. Under Carder’s direction, the company made some 7,000 varieties of vases, bowls, goblets, candlesticks, and other items that quickly sold in department stores from New York to San Francisco.

“Carder’s insistence on high-quality materials and craftsmanship provided a lasting foundation for Steuben Glass,” said Rob, a past designer and director at Steuben Glass for more than 10 years.    

As a businessman, Carder was involved in almost every aspect of Steuben Glass, from designing and selling the glass to hiring and managing employees across the company.

Carder also spent his time at Steuben Glass experimenting with new compositions and invented a range of artistic glass colors, including a cobalt color called Blue Aurene and another color named Gold Aurene. 

In 1932, Carder left Steuben as the company shifted away from brilliant colors and focused more on colorless glass. He then became the design director at the Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) where he oversaw large-scale projects including making glass panels for Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Well into his 80s, Carder continued to work in his own private studio creating smaller cast glass sculptures and colorful, one-of-a-kind works. In 1959, Carder closed his studio to retire and focus on his love of gardening, painting, and golfing.

He lived to be 100 and received birthday wishes from U.S. President John F. Kennedy, N.Y. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, and Queen Elizabeth II. Carder passed away 83 days later.     

One of the finest tributes to Carder is in a biography written after his death titled, “Portrait of a Glassmaker.” Thomas Buechner, the late artist and inaugural director of the Corning Museum of Glass, wrote the foreword and commented that, “[Carder] was supreme in [glassmaking] and, being of a highly competitive nature, tackled any innovation, historic or modern, as a personal challenge.”

“He succeeded so often that he is a unique phenomenon in the history of glass.” 

Learn more about Frederick Carder