From Design to Decor: Steuben’s 2020 Holiday Ornament

Each year, the talented designers of Steuben continue their long-standing tradition of conceptualizing annual holiday ornaments. These ornaments, some of Steuben’s most popular products, begin as simple ideas that will eventually live in the homes of many who covet a touch of Steuben to complete their holiday embellishments. 

Steuben’s Holiday Ornaments are a timeless addition to every household. Photo courtesy of Molly Cagwin.

This year, although unpredictable in many respects, was no different regarding the design process for the annual heirloom. The 2020 Ornament was designed by long-time Steuben artisan, Taf Lebel Schaefer. Schaefer has provided inspiration for the majority of Steuben’s annual ornaments over the last 30 years. This year, her depiction offers a timely sentiment embossed into the surface of the glass: Peace.

All production sketches and images courtesy of Taf Lebel Schaefer.

From a technical standpoint, Schaefer approaches each annual ornament with Steuben’s current collection in mind. “As a Steuben designer, my focus when starting work on the annual Holiday Ornament is to integrate our aesthetic with the technical aspects of bringing a clay model to life via a hand-blown crystal ornament – one worthy of gracing our collectors’ homes,” Schaefer said. “After discussions with the Steuben team and a few sketches, I start to model the ornament in clay or wax.  While modeling the clay, I need to envision how the ornament will look, sculpt the shape, and apply surface treatment in a way that brings to life the composition, reflections, and brilliance of the glass.” 

After finalizing the design, Schaefer then begins work on crafting a series of molds. “When the design is complete, I then make a room temperature vulcanizing (hardened rubber) mold to capture the shape of the model. I cut the mold open and take out the model, leaving negative space. Then, I cast a plaster of the model into that negative space, on which the refinements are made,” Schaefer explains. “After applying successive coats of shellac to harden the surface, the model goes to the metal mold makers who cast, cut, and finish a large metal mold into which the glass is blown. Voilà – the Steuben Holiday Ornament is born!” 

When asked if a specific ornament stands out as a favorite, Schaefer had a hard time specifying one. “It has been my pleasure to design Steuben’s Holiday Ornaments for many years, so I have many favorites.  My love of the process and my attachment to many of the subjects makes it difficult to narrow it down to one,” Schaefer said. “But this year’s Peace Ornament is particularly compelling; it gives us a powerful visual mantra for this season and beyond.” 

The Steuben 2020 Peace Ornament. Photo courtesy of Molly Cagwin.

The Steuben Peace Ornament is a timeless, meaningful gift that will be treasured by recipients for years to come. If you’re interested in purchasing any of Steuben’s Holiday ornaments, please visit the Steuben website or call 1-800-STEUBEN (1-800-783-8236).  

Steuben designer Taf Lebel Schaefer was recently joined by fellow designer Eric Hilton, Steuben Business Manager Steve Bender, and Steuben’s former Design Director Rob Cassetti, for a special edition of Connected by Glass, a live chat series hosted by The Corning Museum of Glass. Watch the full episode below.

For the full playlist of Connected by Glass episodes, please visit our YouTube page.

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