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Vanderwalker Tiffany Glazes


Tiffany Finishes

By Andre Martinez 
While decorative painting has been around since ancient tribes began recording their lives on the wall of caves, the “modern” style of faux finishing took shape about 150 years ago. In fact, techniques that remain the mainstay of decorative finishes today are not that different from those in fashion near the end of the 19th century. Whether they realize it or not, contemporary painters are following in the footsteps of a prolific painter and writer, Fred Norman Vanderwalker, who literally “wrote the book” on faux finishing. 
Following the Civil War, there was a huge expansion in industry and the economy of the United States which allowed all social classes more wealth and, in particular, room for the expanding middle class to grow. In the meanwhile, political unrest in Europe drove a wave of immigration to America, where the newly wealthy welcomed the availability of skilled immigrant craftsmen to decorate their homes. However, not all decorators were European. One of the first American decorative painters was Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Tiffany & Co’s founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany.  
Louis Comfort Tiffany trained as a painter at the National Academy of Design in New York City and then in Paris, before returning home to Manhattan in 1869. Because of his father’s success with Tiffany & Co, Louis had regular exposure to a vast network of wealthy clients, as well as the disposable income required to start and run his own successful company.  
With his understanding of art, color, and aesthetics Tiffany began designing interiors for clients, purchasing paint and other decorative tools for the spaces he was decorating. He rapidly became one of the most sought after interior designers of the late 1800’s decorating much of the White House under President Chester Arthur and the house of Mark Twain, which remains today as the most complete surviving example of his interior designs. 
Through the proliferation of magazines about the luxury lifestyle, Tiffany fathered a major movement in decorative painting in the US. One of the major periodicals of the time was The Art Amateur, which regularly featured the lifestyles of celebrity New Yorkers and the rising American industrialist aristocracy. Everyone was wondering what the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, the Carnegies were doing - all of whom were clients of the Tiffany family.  
The Art Amateur featured Louis, showed his work and published his finish recipes. The promotion of New York interiors was a key factor in this style of decoration being named “Tiffany finishes,” which were basically the parchment glaze style still used today and as well as metallic paints overglazed to create a patina. A writer by the name of Fred Norman Vanderwalker, who wrote for painting magazines, began producing books that discussed Louis Comfort Tiffany and his finishing style. These publications became widely available across the nation, boosting both the demand for decoration and the growing paint industry. His writing for The Painter and Decorator Magazine aided in the success of the PDCA which was established in 1884. 
Where Tiffany rode the wave of wealth created before World War I, Vanderwalker capitalized on the isolationism between WWI and WWII when the American public sought to control and design their own spaces. Tiffany invested his time with the wealthy, while Vanderwalker educated the American public, but both became regarded as experts. 
Where previously decorative products had been handmade by the decorative craftsman, new home decoration centers began to appear in the early 20th century and offered wallpaper, wall paint, decorative paint, and art supplies to the new middle classes. Paint stores trying to appeal to the new trade were using “Tiffany” finishes in their marketing and advertising, and Vanderwalker capitalized on this demand with his books and articles.  
When you read Vanderwalker’s description of decorative finishes and textures in his book “Interior Wall Decoration,” published in 1924, you quickly realize that there is really nothing new in decorative painting. While out of print, this book can readily be found used. His books on job estimating and wood finishing remain in print to this day.


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