Be glad in the Lord and rejoice! Psalm 32:11

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Review - Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Have you ever looked at a gorgeous Tiffany lamp and wonder who came up with the spectacular designs that bring the magic of nature indoors through stained-glass?

The original Tiffany lamps have Louis Comfort Tiffany’s brand name on them, but the genius behind the famous “Dragonfly,” “Wisteria,” and other nature-inspired lamps was actually the work of a lady named Clara Driscoll, one of the first women designers for the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.

Best-selling author Susan Vreeland brings the story of Clara Driscoll and her “Tiffany Girls” to life in her fascinating new novel, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany.” Through this captivating novel, which is based on a collection of Clara’s personal letters discovered in 2005, Vreeland gives her readers a glimpse into the world of the Gilded Age, the late 1800s, early 1900s when the world celebrated the innovations and inventions that would change both art and industry.

Clara Driscoll

Clara was a gifted artist who moved from Ohio to New York City to find work in the design studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Forced to leave her job when she married, Clara returned to the studios as a young widow, and was immediately rehired and put in charge of the newly formed women’s department. It was the popular school of thought that women had a finer eye for color selection and the intricate detail that Tiffany’s stained-glass windows required, and it was their dedicated work that was the basis for the glorious stained-glass windows that brought L.C. Tiffany high acclaim at his debut exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair.

Dragonfly lamp

 The success inspired Clara to set her imagination free and she took her “Tiffany Girls’” work to an entire new level when she came up with a new and innovative way to make the daring, rounded, leaded lamp-shades for which Tiffany’s company would become famous for. Clara would face adversity along the way from the men in the company who were resentful of the women taking some of their work away, but her diligence and persistence served her well, and she finally gained the recognition she so dearly longed for, albeit long after her time here on earth.

Clara in the studio

Vreeland also shares the story of Clara’s search for love. She was able to go back to work for Tiffany’s after her first husband’s death, but Tiffany’s strict policy of allowing no married women in the workplace would put a damper on any relationship Clara might have longed for. She had friendships with several men who lived in her boardinghouse, and it was there that she meet the man she would eventually marry in her later years, but Clara also longed for a closer relationship with her employer and there are hints throughout the book that Tiffany might have also been interested in her as well, but supposedly nothing ever came of the infatuation.

Wisteria Lamp

In addition to being a mesmerizing work of fiction, this novel is informative on several levels. It gives great and glorious details of how Tiffany’s famed stained glass windows and other objects are designed and created – from the creation of the special glass to the final finishing work that gives each piece its wondrous luster. There are details of how Clara was inspired to choose to portray the various flowers, butterflies and dragonflies in the objects she designed. Louis Tiffany was also fascinated by botany and encouraged her studies, but also urged her to portray nature as art.

Peony lamp

There are also details of the changes and happenings in New York during this period of time. Clara described her first bicycle ride and her first subway trip. Vreeland also describes the Tammany Hall politics, the impoverishment of nearly arrived immigrants and other newsworthy happenings of early twentieth century.

As with her previous novels, “Luncheon of The Boating Party,” and “Girl in Hyacinth Blue,” Susan Vreeland deftly combines the magic of creating masterpiece works of art with a deliciously heartwarming story of those who create which will once again delight her readers and leave them longing for more of her work.

Field of Iris - window

I was sent a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not compensated for my opinion.

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Mystica said...

Thank you for a lovely post. Not just informative but so very interesting.

Jessica said...

What a lovely sounding book! I do have a huge coffee table book filled with Tiffany’s famed stained glass windows but alas I do not own a lamp.

Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews said...

Thank you both for dropping by! I love Tiffany lamps, but fear I'll only ever own copies! It was fascinating to learn how they were developed!