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 fiancées, 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.