Among the Rakow Research Library’s newest acquisitions is a portfolio of 87 design drawings, at least some of which were created by the Parisian firm Établissements Charles Blanc for lighting fixtures at the Palacio del Centro Asturiano in Havana, Cuba. Established in 1885, Établissements Charles Blanc manufactured bronze lighting fixtures with glass embellishments. The firm showcased its wares at numerous French exhibitions throughout the later part of the 19th century, including the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.
The design drawings are mostly in pencil or ink and range in size from 22 x 15 cm to 64 x 42 cm. Included are designs for floor lamps, chandeliers, and various wall and ceiling fixtures. Twenty-three of the designs are specifically labeled “Centro Asturiano Habana,” though it is likely many others were also marked for the Palacio del Centro Asturiano.
The Palacio was built during a period of growth in Havana which included an architectural boom. Designed by architect Manuel del Busto, the building was opened in 1927 as the Asturian Center headquarters. Its lighting fixtures were intended to blend with the style personified by Cuba’s Republican architecture. The Palacio’s stained glass windows and glass-decorated lighting fixtures offer fine examples of how glass was used in architecture and decorating in 1920s Cuba.
In the years after the Revolution, the Palacio underwent a series of repurposing, the last of which occurred in 2001 when it became one of two buildings which house the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Today, the Centro Asturiano houses a collection of international art which spans the last 2,500 years.
Many of the original lighting fixtures designed by Établissements Charles Blanc still exist today; and, in light of the recent diplomatic improvements between Cuba and the United States, it becomes a growing possibility that Americans can see for themselves the beauty and splendor of Cuban landmarks such as the one built by Busto, not to mention the treasures within its walls.
The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9am to 5pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.