Photo by Richard Howard
The Ayer Mansion at 395 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston—an unusual light-colored granite-faced house, ornamented by bands of mosaic panels—is the only remaining residential commission by famed glass artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. Its interior boasts Tiffany-designed mosaics, custom furniture, and intricate plasterwork. Last summer, Sarah Michelson ’18 interned at the Campaign for the Ayer Mansion, diving into the process of historical preservation. In October 2016, she spoke about the experience at the Tanner Conference, which highlights off-campus learning. We caught up with Michelson afterward to ask her a few questions about her time with Tiffany.
What is your favorite object in the house?
I love the mosaic in the foyer. It’s absolutely gorgeous—if you’re standing back far enough, it looks like an actual scene receding into space. Like you could just walk into it.
What were some of the unexpected lessons from your internship?
I’m used to reading articles and publications full of definitive information that I can get a very clear picture from. Historical research, as I discovered, isn’t like that at all. I expected to receive a puzzle box full of pieces for me to put together quickly and efficiently, but instead, I got a puzzle box with about half the pieces missing and no real idea of where to go looking for them.
What, in your opinion, makes Tiffany glass so special?
It’s a really amazing luminous sort of glass. It’s not like stained glass you would see in a bar or even a church; rather, it looks like a sort of rare jewel. The colors are dynamic in both appearance and effect.
If you could work with any artist, living or dead, to create your dream house, who would you choose?
Yayoi Kusama! I want to live in one of her Infinity Mirror installations. It’s like being in outer space. If I put a bed in one of those I would probably sleep well for the rest of my life.