Clara and Mr. Tiffany
by Susan Vreeland
Clara and Mr. Tiffany is a smart and refreshing novel about the hardships and triumphs of women in the arts at the turn of the century in New York. It is written beautifully by a master of the art novel genre, Susan Vreeland. You will feel compassion, anger and gratitude for the women of this novel and all that they suffered so that women today can work in the decorative arts without a second thought. Clara and Mr. Tiffany follows the true life story of Clara Driscoll, the head of the women's decorative arts department at Tiffany, and reveals the strong and creative women behind one of decorative arts' most famous men.
Prodded on by the success of his father's Tiffany and Co. jewelry business, Louis Comfort Tiffany strove to outshine his father's goals, see the world differently, and create and design museum-quality pieces above and beyond his competitors. Despite his many faults and egomania, Tiffany did see great value in the ideas of his female employees, his company being one of the only decorative arts houses in the world to employ women at the time. However, these women were never recognized as artists in their own right, only as employees of "the company." During difficult times, Tiffany protected the rights of his female workers to the best of his limited ability, but only because he generically believed that women had superior talents for better color selection. The female workers' hardships persisted, spurred on by all-male unions and unequal working requirements that ultimately revealed Tiffany's (and the greater world's) continued lack of support for the trials and educations of the majority of women in his life.
Clara Driscoll is portrayed as a middle-aged widow, returning to work for Tiffany only after the death of her husband (married women not being allowed in the studio). She is both enchanted by the world of Louis, becoming quite close and collaborative with him, and frustrated by the constraints of her artistic endeavors as a woman. Even her most prize-worthy designs—those recognized today by the world over as the greatest works of The Louis Comfort Tiffany Company—were never attributed to Clara Driscoll. They honored only the Tiffany name, not the creator. Hindered by other nonsensical restraints, Clara ultimately had to publicly fight for her own artistic rights as well as the employment rights of 27 young, mostly immigrant women under her tutelage.
Written just beautifully by Vreeland, this scenic story embodies the gritty downtown New York tenements, boarding houses and shanties occupied by Clara's team of working women in the early 1900s, juxtaposed against the exotic jewel-toned mansions of the Tiffany family. You will delight in Clara's willful reaction to the rapidly changing age of invention around her, while accompanying her on a long and difficult journey to create a more welcoming world for women in the arts.
Sara Trucksess is former curatorial and registration assistant employed over the years by The Corcoran Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. With a degree in Art History and French from Harvard University, she now calls Kansas City home with her husband and 3 young sons.