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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ruba Rombic

"When you come to think of it, there is no reason why a vase should be spherical instead of angular, is there? Or a goblet rounded instead of cornered?"
- "Ruba Rombic, an Epic in Modern Art."

Ruba - an epic poem
Rombic - for rhomboid, a geometric shape with no parallel lines

This large yellow-green fishbowl (Phoenix Glass Company 1928) is a remarkable new addition to our Ruba Rombic art glass collection. (Incidentally, the acquisition of this single large piece required that the entire collection be moved to the corridor wall case previously inhabited by George Ohr's pottery. You can now find George's work in the first case on the left as you enter the large exhibition room from the foyer.)

The Ruba Rombic pattern was designed in 1928 by Reuben Haley during the time he was associated with the Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company of Coraopolis, PA. It has been called "perhaps the best art moderne (art deco) glass ever made." Haley used irregular, sharp rhomboidal planes to create angular lights and shadows, a striking departure from the symmetrical curved shapes of traditional glassware. Haley was influenced by Art Moderne, now known as Art Deco, and Cubist art he saw during a trip to the 1925 Paris International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. He interpreted the avant garde spirit of cubist paintings in the medium of mold-blown glass. One reviewer credited Haley and Consolidated with originating an American contribution to Art Moderne.

His design also captured the crazy and adventurous spirit of the Roaring Twenties in America prior to the stock market crash of 1929. The line created a sensation when it debuted and was produced by Consolidated until 1932 when the company closed. In the grips of the Great Depression, America reverted to more conservative tastes and utilitarian objects. In this way, the creation of Ruba Rombic and fate of Consolidated trace the social mood and economic fortunes of the country during this period.

Looking at the fishbowl as it sits within in the collection, you'll notice that it is a distinctly different and unusual color. The line was manufactured in 16 colors and our collection includes 10 of those, but nestled among the other colors, the pale yellow-green fishbowl stands out because it is a unique type of glass.

The bowl is made of 1/4" thick vaseline glass, so called because its distinct color was thought to resemble petroleum jelly - as it looked in the 1920's. It is the incorporation of 2% Uranium Dioxide to the glass formula that gives it this appearance. Some other types of glass resemble vaseline glass under normal light, but true vaseline glass or uranium glass glows a bright florescent green under ultraviolet light. This is the only way to tell for sure if a piece contains Uranium Dioxide.

Besides its iconic design and unique color, the bowl is exceptional for yet another reason. It is the only piece manufactured not by Consolidated, but by the Phoenix Glass Company of nearby Monaca, PA. The patent for the "Fishbowl or Similar Article" was issued to Thomas W. McCreary, manager of Phoenix on May 10, 1928. The explanation for this seeming incongruity is that Kenneth Haley, son of Reuben and trained in glassmaking by his father, was employed by the Phoenix in 1928 and it was he who designed the fishbowl.

Kirkland Museum has one of the largest collections of Ruba Rombic glass and ceramics on display in North America. The initial production included thirty shapes in five colors. Eventually there were thirty-seven or so items, created in sixteen colors. The Kirkland Museum owns forty five pieces in eleven colors. The first pieces were collected by Vance Kirkland himself.

Mary Beth Orr, Volunteer and Public Programs Coordinator