Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Clara and Mr. Tiffany

3.6 103
by Susan Vreeland
     
 

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows that he hopes will earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s

Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows that he hopes will earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division, who conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which Tiffany will long be remembered. Never publicly acknowledged, Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces a strict policy: He does not employ married women. Ultimately, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party) again excavates the life behind a famous artistic creation--in this case the Tiffany leaded-glass lamp, the brainchild not of Louis Comfort Tiffany but his glass studio manager, Clara Driscoll. Tiffany staffs his studio with female artisans--a decision that protects him from strikes by the all-male union--but refuses to employ women who are married. Lucky for him, Clara's romantic misfortunes--her husband's death, the disappearance of another suitor--insure that she can continue to craft the jewel-toned glass windows and lamps that catch both her eye and her imagination. Behind the scenes she makes her mark as an artist and champion of her workers, while living in an eclectic Irving Place boarding house populated by actors and artists. Vreeland ably captures Gilded Age New York and its atmosphere--robber barons, sweatshops, colorful characters, ateliers--but her preoccupation with the larger historical story comes at the expense of Clara, whose arc, while considered and nicely told, reflects the times too closely in its standard-issue woman-behind-the-man scenario. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party) creates another affecting story of artistic vision and innovation, this time set within the crafts movement around the turn of the 19th century. She tells the story of Clara Driscoll, who ran the women's workshop at the New York studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany. In Vreeland's account, it was Clara who had the idea to create lampshades from stained glass; Mr. Tiffany, unconcerned with profits, gave her the freedom to follow her creative instincts. While Clara had her share of personal struggles, she lived happily among artists and bohemians during a time of great social change; settlement houses, women's suffrage, and trade unions were among the nascent progressive movements that influenced her life and times. VERDICT In trademark style, Vreeland adds depth to her novel by incorporating details about the artistic process. Her descriptions highlight the craftsmanship behind the timeless beauty of Tiffany's glass, and the true story of Clara Driscoll's life serves as a colorful canvas. Recommended for historical fiction readers; likely to become a favorite on the book club circuit. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/10.]—Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty.
Kirkus Reviews

In her sixth work of fiction about the inter-penetration of life and art, Vreeland (Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007, etc.) celebrates the putative designer of Tiffany's leaded-glass lampshades.

That would be Clara Driscoll. Some art historians now believe that it was Clara, unacknowledged in her lifetime, who conceived the lampshades. What is indisputable is that, encouraged by Louis Tiffany, she was a major creative force at his Glass and Decorating Company. (This was separate from the jewelry company, run by his father Charles.) From 1892 to 1908, she oversaw the Women's Department; many of her workers were from poor immigrant families and still in their teens. Louis would not employ married women. Clara had returned to the company after her much older husband Francis died, omitting her from his will. Vreeland's account of the marriage is sketchy; her primary focus is on the workplace. Here Clara is a commanding figure: a mother hen to the Tiffany Girls, a feminist challenging the rampant sexism of the Men's Department and an imaginative innovator marrying glass to flowers and insects. Her greatest triumph was the dragonfly lamp at the Paris Exposition, though even there she was not given credit. However, she did find consolation in her bohemian downtown boardinghouse, especially in the company of the madcap painter George Waldo (gay, like several of their fellow lodgers) and his straight brother Edwin, a prospective husband until his mysterious disappearance. Vreeland guides us conscientiously through the world of glass, of cames and cabochons, though the detail can be overwhelming. More damagingly, she has let the stifling propriety of the time infect Clara as narrator; though prim among her peers, she could surely have unbuttoned to us, her readers. Louis, cocooned in reverence, suffers too. His one memorable scene comes after his wife's death when, a remorseful drunk, his language turns salty.

A novel that reads like a labor of love. Unfortunately, the labor is as evident as the love.

Eugenia Zukerman
Clara and Mr. Tiffany is about art and commerce, love and duty. Peopled with characters both imagined and historic, it is also a study of New York's ultra-rich and desperate poor, its entitled men and its disenfranchised women. And it is the story of one extraordinary woman's passion and determination…Vreeland's ability to make this complex historical novel as luminous as a Tiffany lamp is nothing less than remarkable.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
“Vreeland’s ability to make this complex historical novel as luminous as a Tiffany lamp is nothing less than remarkable.”—The Washington Post

“A novel as sparkling and elegant as a Tiffany lampshade . . . a sensitive portrayal of women’s struggles in the nineteenth century . . . [Susan Vreeland] has captured the tone of an era. . . . The consistent elegance and vitality of her prose make reading her book a pleasure.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“As she did for a Vermeer painting in Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland traces the secret history of an objet d’art—this time, the iconic Tiffany lamp. . . . A fascinating look at at turn-of-the-century New York City.”—People (4 out of 4 stars)
 
“Vreeland’s writing is so graceful, her research so exhaustive, that a reader can’t help becoming enfolded in this fascinating world.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“There’s no excuse for any reader of high-quality literary fiction to let this novel pass by.”—Booklist (starred review)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400068166
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/11/2011
Pages:
432
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

9781400068166|excerpt

Vreeland: CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY

Peacock

I opened the beveled-glass door under the sign announcing Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in ornate bronze. A new sign with a new name. Fine. I felt new too.

In the ground-floor showroom of the five-story building, stained-glass windows hung from the high ceiling, and large mosaic panels leaned against the walls. Despite the urgency of my business, I couldn’t resist taking a quick look at the free-form vases, bronze desk sets, pendulum clocks, and Art Nouveau candelabras. It was the oil lamps that bothered me. Their blown-glass shades sat above squat, bulbous bases too earthbound to be elegant. Mr. Tiffany was capable of more grace than that.

A new young floor manager tried to stop me at the marble stairway. I gave him a look that implied, I was here before you were born, and pushed his arm away as though it were a Coney Island turnstile.

On the second floor, I peered into Mr. Tiffany’s large office-studio. With a gardenia pinned to his lapel, he sat at his desk behind a row of potted orchids. In February, no less! Such were the extravagances of wealth. His formerly trim bottle brush of a mustache had sprouted into robust ram’s horns.

His own paintings hung on the walls—Citadel Mosque of Old Cairo, with tall, slender minarets, and Market Day at Tangier, with a high tower on a distant hill. A new one depicted a lily on a tall stalk lording over a much shorter one. Amusing. Little Napoléon’s self-conscious preoccupation with height was alive and well.

New tall pedestals draped with bedouin shawls flanked the fireplace. On them Oriental vases held peacock feathers. In this his design sense went awry, sacrificed to his flamboyancy. If he wanted to appear taller, the pedestals should have been shorter. Someday I would tell him.

“Excuse me.”

“Why, Miss Wolcott!”

“Mrs. Driscoll. I got married, you remember.”

“Oh, yes. You can’t be wanting employment, then. My policy hasn’t—”

I pulled back my shoulders. “As of two weeks ago, I’m a single woman again.”

He was too much the gentleman to ask questions, but he couldn’t hide the gleam in his eyes.

“I’ve come to inquire if you have work for me. That is, if my performance pleased you before.” A deliberate prompt. I didn’t want to be hired because of my need or his kindness. I wanted my talent to be the reason he wanted me back.

“Indeed” was all he offered.

What now to fill the suspended moment? His new projects. I asked. His eyebrows leapt up in symmetrical curves.

“A Byzantine chapel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago next year. Four times bigger than the Paris Exposition Universelle. It will be the greatest assembly of artists since the fifteenth century.” He counted on his fingers and then drummed them on the desk. “Only fifteen months away. In 1893 the name of Louis Comfort Tiffany will be on the lips of millions!” He stood up and swung open his arms wide enough to embrace the whole world.

I sensed his open palm somewhere in the air behind the small of my back, ushering me to his massive, carved mahogany exhibit table to see his sketches and watercolors. “Two round windows, The Infancy of Christ and Botticelli’s Madonna and Child, will be set off by a dozen scenic side windows.”

A huge undertaking. How richly fortunate. Surely there would be opportunity for me to shine.

Practically hopping from side to side, he made a show of slinging down one large watercolor after another onto the Persian carpet, each one a precise, fine-edged rendering of what he wanted the window to be.

“Gracious! You’ve been on fire. Go slower! Give me a chance to admire each one.”

He unrolled the largest watercolor. “An eight-foot mosaic behind the altar depicting a pair of peacocks surrounded by grapevines.”

My breath whistled between my open lips. Above the peacocks facing each other, he had transformed the standard Christian icon of a crown of thorns into a shimmering regal headdress for God the King, the thorns replaced by large glass jewels in true Tiffany style.

Astonishing how he could get mere watercolors so deep and saturated, so like lacquer that they vibrated together as surely as chords of a great church pipe organ. Even the names of the hues bore an exotic richness. The peacocks’ necks in emerald green and sapphire blue. The tail feathers in vermilion, Spanish ocher, Florida gold. The jewels in the crown mandarin yellow and peridot. The background in turquoise and cobalt. Oh, to get my hands on those gorgeous hues. To feel the coolness of the blue glass, like solid pieces of the sea. To chip the gigantic jewels for the crown so they would sparkle and send out shafts of light. To forget everything but the glass before me and make of it something resplendent.

When I could trust my voice not to show too much eagerness, I said, “I see your originality is in good health. Only you would put peacocks in a chapel.”

“Don’t you know?” he said in a spoof of incredulity. “They symbolized eternal life in Byzantine art. Their flesh was thought to be incorruptible.”

“What a lucky find for you, that convenient tidbit of information.”

He chuckled, so I was on safe ground.

He tossed down more drawings. “A marble-and-mosaic altar surrounded by mosaic columns, and a baptismal font of opaque leaded glass and mosaic.”

“This dome is the lid of the basin? In opaque leaded glass?”

He looked at it with nothing short of love, and showed me its size with outstretched arms as though he were hugging the thing.

I was struck by a tantalizing idea. “Imagine it reduced in size and made of translucent glass instead. Once you figure how to secure the pieces in a dome, that could be the method and the shape of a lampshade. A wraparound window of, say”—I looked around the room—“peacock feathers.”

He jerked his head up with a startled expression, the idea dawning on him as if it were his own.

“Lampshades in leaded glass,” he said in wonder, his blue eyes sparking.

“Just think where that could go,” I whispered.

“I am. I am!” He tugged at his beard. “It’s brilliant! An entirely new product. We’ll be the first on the market. And not just peacock featherth. Flowerth too!”

Excitement overtook his struggle to control his lisp, which surfaced only when he spoke with passion.

“But the chapel first. This will be our secret for now.”

Men harboring secrets—I seemed attracted to them unwittingly.

“Besides the window department and the mosaic department, I have six women working on the chapel windows. I’ve always thought that women have greater sensitivity to nuances of color than men do. You’ve proved that yourself, so I want more women. You’ll be in charge of them.”

“That will suit me just fine.”

Meet the Author

Susan Vreeland is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, including Luncheon of the Boating Party, Life Studies, The Passion of Artemisia, The Forest Lover, and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. She lives in San Diego.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
San Diego, California
Date of Birth:
January 20, 1946
Place of Birth:
Racine, Wisconsin
Education:
San Diego State University
Website:
http://www.svreeland.com

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Clara and Mr. Tiffany 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 104 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Louis Comfort Tiffany hires unmarried women as his artists to avoid the strikes that men are prone to conduct. His New York glass studio manager Clara Driscoll is a widow with a series of romantic tragedies besides her husband's death. Clara does her best to insure her talented female crew is taken care of properly. In 1893 Tiffany presents the stained glass collection at the Chicago World's Fair. He takes all the accolades failing to mention the genius he left behind in New York. Clara enjoys living amidst the Gilded Age New York artist community, but wishes her contribution as the creator of the stained glass lampshades that have made Tiffany's famous would also bring her renown. The credit for the innovation goes to Tiffany, but Clara lives with that as her employer encourages her and her girls to create even if it negatively impacts profits. She also wishes for a man who was devoted to her as she has been to Tiffany and others. This is an engaging historical that bases the storyline on the premise that Driscoll was the artistic genius not Tiffany although history and the then late nineteenth century gave all the kudos to the man. Thus the reader obtains a sense of time and place as society praises Tiffany but ignores his female workshop and its brilliant leader. Readers who enjoy something different will relish the tale of the woman behind the famous man. Harriet Klausner
BiblioChic More than 1 year ago
Our book club enjoyed this book, each of us for a slightly different reason. We all found it easy to read and quite entertaining. A few thought the amount of technical detail was a bit much, but it was easy to skim over and get back to the story. Personally, I thought the technical detail was interesting and served to better illustrate Clara's unusual status in what was a man's domain. We all found Vreeland's imagined reconstruction of characters and events to be entirely believable in the context of the actual historic evidence available. The book provided interesting, unexpected glimpses into different aspects of life then: the immigrant experience, seaside holidays, medical treatments, the gay community. Bottom line: not necessarily a must-read, but a very worthwhile book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was not only a wonderful experience of how the world of art was for women at the turn of the century but about the life and times of Tiffany and how he built a powerful business and world of beauty from glass!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I had read her other book "Luncheon of the Boating Party" about Renoir and loved it. Having seen a Tiffany lamp exhibit in a museum, I was very interested in reading this book when I saw that it was about the women behind the art of Tiffany. Those who appreciate art for art's sake and the beauty of Tiffany glass will find this book very entertaining.
StephanieCowell More than 1 year ago
Susan Vreeland has chosen old New York for the setting of her latest novel and a fascinating world it is from the immigrant families huddled in tenements to the wealthy such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, heir to his self-made jeweler father and determined to utterly rule his world of colored glass windows and lamps. He is an old New York autocrat, allowing women to work for him in a women's department (it would be immoral to allow them to work with the men!), paying modest wages and exacting a terrible price on their employment: they cannot marry. He will not have their loyalties divided between the glitter of his glass and their needs as wives. The book is narrated by Clara, a middle-class creative woman who has to constantly remake her choice between her need for love and her need to work in Tiffany's brilliant shadow. She is one of the bright creators of his firm and in truth he basks in her creativity, taking almost all the credit for her work. Still she fights for the rights of the immigrant women who work under her. As the book progresses, Clara grows stronger. She fights for her girls and against the oppression of the men who would happily close down her department; while Tiffany lives in unbelievable luxury, her home remains a small room in a boarding house. Many of Susan Vreeland's portrayals of the immigrant girls and their strong spirits (or sometimes broken spirits) are breathtaking in their clarity and wisdom. Particularly luminous is her portrait of an idealistic male social worker who seems to take on every burden of the poor before he turns a startlingly different way. Tiffany also falls into loneliness while Clara goes steadfastly onward: learning, creating, inspiring others and making new designs for Tiffany lamps and new pathways in her world for herself and the many people she loves. Another wonderful novel about the creative arts from this very gifted author. (I am the author of CLAUDE & CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET and MARRYING MOZART.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I read this well researched book I wished that I had visited the Tiffany Museum in Winter Park, FL, after reading Clara and Tiffany. The story lines of not one, but several, personal relationships, the process for making stained glass art objects, to labor relations and women's struggle to get and keep jobs is a great read. Visiting the museum enriches one's appreciation for the expertise necessary for making beautiful stained glass art pieces.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book. I am well-acquainted with the Tiffany lamps and panels but had not had much information previously about Clara Driscoll except as a shadowy figure in the background who had a major impact on the lamp designs but who never got any credit. Contrary to some who found the manufacturing details tedious, I found them very interesting. My appreciation of the skill, talent, and expertise that made the lamps and panels was heightened. Also, Clara Driscoll's management skills went way beyond what was seen elsewhere in the business. Since the women weren't allowed to join the union, they had a greater opportunity to make themselves indispensable to the business. Clara Driscoll was a very liberated woman for her time. Louis C Tiffany's personality was also explored in depth.
MWgal More than 1 year ago
The book is engaging & very well written. It's fun to read about New York city as well as the art of Tiffany.Of course women played more than a pivotal role in what most believe was a man's domain. VERY enjoyable. And, the characters were intriguing as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Clara and Mr. Tiffany's relationship is at the core of this novel which talks of art, creation and beauty in the making of stain glass. The reader walks away from the book not only being entertained by it, but also learning a bit about the process of making stained glass. Most importantly, the reader leaves this experience with a reaffirmation of the relationship between art and beauty, it's importance to our lives and it's role in a bit of American history.
Grams1DM More than 1 year ago
For me, this book was very interesting and I learned much about the art of being a glass designer and glass making. It was great to learn how the Tiffany Lamps came about. I liked all the characters in the book and found them entertaining; even though I wished Clara would have acknowledged by the world for all she had done for Mr. Tiffany.
HappyMomNan More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I found Clara a delightful character and appreciated her loyalty to Tiffany. Reading about the making of the Tiffany lamps and windows kept me mesmerized each time I sat down to read. For me this was one of those, "I can't wait to hear what happens next." I also enjoyed reading about the relationships Clara developed with her boarding house friends. The descriptions of New York City and the buildings help my interest. I felt like I was back at the turn of the century. Vreelands gave me a mental picture of the Flat Iron building even before she told the reader its name. So much in this book to hold the interest of the reader. Read the book and make yourself happy!!
Brittany Harrelson More than 1 year ago
Susan Vreeland is one of my favorite authors. When i met her in person, she signed and added a personal message to my copy of The Passion of Artemisia which has become a prized possession. When a new novel of hers is published, I rush out and buy a copy! However, I really struggled with this book. I found the book to be overly technical and I myself have made many stained glass pieces. I found myself bored often and found it to be quite dry. The historical aspect of the book was interesting, but I was left with many questions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. The characters, the city, the story...an amazing read.
gl More than 1 year ago
In Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Susan Vreeland gives us a glimpse into New York City during the Gilded Age. The novel centers on Clara Driscoll a critically important designer in Louis Comfort Tiffany's Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. Clara designed many of the mosaics and the iconic Tiffany lamps at a time when women were afforded very few employment opportunities. Her work at Tiffany's gave her a chance to focus on art and appreciate beauty and gave her some financial independence but also required that she remain single. Tiffany only hired unmarried women - and once a woman married she had to leave the company. We learn much about what it meant to live and work in America during this time. Vreeland weaves these facts in with such skill that the period and people become real. We read about the Chicago World's Fair, the use of electricity on the grounds, and the impact that Tiffany's stained glass windows had. We can picture the world through Clara's eyes, as she lives on Gramercy Park sharing a house with artists and writers. The Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, the construction of the Flatiron Building, even Stanford White are all part of the narrative. Clara and Mr. Tiffany combines art, history, American Studies and cultural history but more than anything it is a glimpse into the life of a brave, creative, and tenacious young woman. A fascinating and satisfying read - highly recommended! ISBN-10: 1400068169 - Hardcover Publisher: Random House (January 11, 2011), 432 pages. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Avid_ReaderSG More than 1 year ago
Suspensful, emotional and intriging. Although some of the historical facts may/or may not be accurate this was a page turner. I would recommend this book for a club discussion and look forward to reading other books by this author.
Smokeyglass More than 1 year ago
Although I don't know the accuracy of all the historical detail, I was thoroughly engaged by all of the detail regarding the glasswork. The romantic interest of Edwin was a little short but I didn't find that to be the main story. Excellent read!
peegeePG More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of the era that is depicted in NYC, but I am finding it difficult to wade through this book. There is much wording about the various colors that go into a stained glass piece and it is somewhat technical and , frankly, boring. Clara's interaction within her rooming house cohabitants lacks depth. I find I have to force myself to pick it up and read and that is not the enjoyable experience I wish to have when reading. I will give it a few more chapters to see if it improves.
NahvilleReader 7 months ago
I really enjoyed this book! I loved the creative process depicted in it. I also loved the changing role of women and society at this time. I've recommended it to friends.
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