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Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland


Pages: 405

Original date of publication: 2010

My edition: 2010 (Random House)

Why I decided to read: it was offered as a part of the Amazon Vine program

How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, November 2010

Clara and Mr. Tiffany tells the story of Clara Driscoll, the creative impetus behind the iconic Tiffany lamps. She was also the head of the women’s division at Tiffany Studios in the 1890s and 1900s, and had a close working relationship with Louis Comfort Tiffany himself. Clara Driscoll’s work made her more or less at the center of the Decorative Arts movement of the late 19th century, although her work was never fully acknowledged in her lifetime (even today, we call them Tiffany Lamps, not Driscoll Lamps!).

The story opens in 1893, when Clara, newly widowed, rejoins Tiffany Studios. The story follows her over the next fifteen years or so. The novel is the story of how Clara struggled to balance her love life with her work life (since married women were not permitted to work for Tiffany); and, in the larger sense, this is a story of women in the workplace in the early 19th century. It seems that Clara’s life was defined in part by her relationships with men: her first husband, two fiancĂ©es, her boarding-house friend, and, ultimately, with her boss.

Susan Vreeland tells Clara Driscoll’s fascinating story very well, interweaving plot with descriptions of the glass that she and her girls worked with every day. I’ve always wondered how Tiffany glass was produced, and so I enjoyed the descriptions of the various techniques that were used to make it. Having read some of Susan Vreeland’s art-based novels, it seems that she really has a talent for describing color and technique in a way that makes it interesting for the reader, without being pedantic. Clara lived at a time when drastic changes were happening in New York City, and so we get to see the incorporation of the boroughs into New York, as well as the opening of the subway system.

If you ever find yourself in New York City, do stop by the display of Tiffany lamps on the top floor of the New-York Historical Society! They are well worth the visit.

Comments

I have such fond memories of my grandmother's Tiffany-esque lamp. I love stories about the beginning of cities, especially New York City. Thanks for the recommendation!
aggiel said…
This sounds great! Another for the TBR pile.
Marg said…
I had completely forgotten that Susan Vreeland had a new book coming out until a couple of days ago. I have enjoyed her other books that I have read so will get to this one eventually.
Jill said…
This one looks interesting. I read a book review in a magazine and I was intrigued by it. What is the Amazon vine program? I've seen it mentioned by a number of people lately.
Swapna said…
I got this one from Amazon Vine as well! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Teddy Rose said…
I am so behind in my subscriptions. Anyway, I was wondering about this book. Your review provoked me to add it to my TBR.

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