In this series, Lagniappe presents a different work each week from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, with commentary from a curator.

Few forms so clearly reference the molten state of glass as this type of early American “lily pad” pitcher.

Perhaps because of those thick tendrils of glass forming pools akin to aquatic plants, or perhaps because this particular glass design has few counterparts around the world, so-called “lily pad” pitchers are coveted by collectors of American glass.

A skilled glassblower made this pitcher by first shaping a bubble of hot glass into the open pitcher form. In the first bit of showy ornamentation, the craftsman wrapped a thin thread of liquid glass quickly in a tight spiral around the pitcher’s neck.

For the signature element, the pitcher was wrapped again around the bottom of the bubble, with a second gather of hot glass, and tooled to form the upward drip “lily pad” motif that evokes the motion of molten glass, frozen in time as it cools.

“Lily pad” pitchers are historically associated with the glasshouses of southern New Jersey, where the nation’s first successful glass production started in the 18th century.

This forested area — copious wood is needed to fuel furnaces for melting glass — was home to 11 glass factories by 1820, many employing German immigrants with skills from European glass factories.

The bread-and-butter of these American factories would have been practical glass items such as window panes and bottles. Fanciful objects like “lily pad” pitchers are thought to have been made in the glassblower’s after-hours.

This "lily pad" pitcher is on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art in the Café NOMA restaurant by Ralph Brennan.

— Mel Buchanan, RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design, NOMA

Mel Buchanan is the RosaMary curator of decorative arts and design at the New Orleans Museum of Art.