I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in a way they have never experienced.

Dale Chihuly

The Liliane Stewart Collection

by David A. Hanks, Curator, Stewart Program for Modern Design

Liliane Stewart

The roots of the collection began in 1979, when Montreal philanthropists and collectors Liliane and David Macdonald Stewart founded the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts and the Stewart Collection. Liliane Stewart, the primary force behind the effort, initially concentrated on mid-century design—a focus unique among North American museums at the time. Over the years, the collecting focus grew to include designs from 1900 to the present. Liliane Stewart’s philosophy was to seek out work by acclaimed international designers while remaining open to work by lesser-known practitioners. Early on, she recognized the importance of relationships with designers, dealers, curators and collectors as sources of information, expertise, and new work. Through her collecting, Liliane Stewart often discovered young designers whose names have since become household words. 

Following David Stewart’s death in 1984, Liliane Stewart continued to collect, amassing a sizeable trove of the world’s finest examples of design, from mass produced, industrial products to unique crafted objects, limited editions and prototypes. Over the years, she developed a collaborative relationship with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and in 1991 commissioned Frank Gehry to create dedicated exhibition galleries for the Stewart Collection in the MMFA. In 2000—by which time the Collection numbered more than five thousand objects—she donated it to the MMFA, which termed it “one of the most valuable gifts ever received by a Canadian museum.” 

Liliane Stewart continued to collect after donating her original collection to the MMFA. She founded the Stewart Program for Modern Design, which has acquired more than 600 objects since 2000. Although Liliane Stewart died in 2014, the Stewart Program for Modern Design continues to carry out her mission of using the collection—through exhibitions, publications, and films—to educate the public about design and its role in contemporary society. 

As the Stewart Program collection grew and the collection was refined, it became evident that deaccessioning would be necessary. The process of refining the collection to plan for future projects has led to the present sale at Rago/Wright, which offers important designs from the Stewart Program collection. Included are duplicates of designs in the collection along with sets from which only a single example was retained. Also included in the sale are pieces of modern furniture that were acquired in the 1980s and 90s for use in the original offices of the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts.

The Art of Giving

Watch an excerpt from the 2012 documentary film The Art of Giving/L’art de donner surrounding Lilane Stewart's extraordinary life as a collector and donor of the arts.

Dale Chihuly b. 1941

American glass sculptor and entrepreneur Dale Chihuly is among the most well-regarded glass artists of the 20th and 21st Century.

Dale Chihuly’s academic career began at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in Interior Design in 1965. He then went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied under Harvey Littleton, founder of the first formal glass program in the United States. He graduated in 1967 with a Master of Science in Sculpture before moving on to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he received a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture in 1968. He would later return to RISD to establish a glass program and teach for many years.

After earning his third degree, Chihuly sojourned in Venice where he worked in the factory of Paolo Venini, a key architect of the 20th century design aesthetic and one of the leading producers of mid-century Murano glass. It was in Venini’s studio on the island of Murano that Chihuly first witnessed the team approach to blowing glass, a practice that would become an integral part of his work in the years to come. Though he returned to the United States to teach, Chihuly continued to travel the world to meet and learn from like-minded artists.

In 1976, Chihuly was involved in an auto accident that resulted in the loss of his left eye, greatly limiting his sense of visual depth. Chihuly’s ability to create was further impaired by a bodysurfing accident in 1979 that left him unable to hold the glassblowing pipe. The injuries sustained in these two incidents forced Chihuly to hire others to assist. In a 2006 interview Chihuly explained, "Once I stepped back, I liked the view." This new perspective allowed Chihuly to anticipate problems sooner and work more efficiently. Additionally, working with a team of master glassblowers enabled Chihuly’s studio to produce glass art on a scale and quantity that would be inconceivable for a single artist working alone.

Though Chihuly has worked in multiple mediums including charcoal, acrylic, and graphite, it is his large and vibrantly colored glass sculptures and installations for which he is best known. These include his “Seafoam Series,” of thin, wavy translucent glass forms sporting bold bands and splashes of color, his “Ikebana Series” of naturally inspired ‘glass flowers,’ and his series of massive and stunningly intricate chandeliers.