This week I read Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland. The novel is based on an exhibit at the New York Historical society and its fascinating catalog, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls. Clara Driscoll was a detailed letter writer like many of her Victorian contemporaries, and this allowed Susan Vreeland to piece together Clara's amazing story.
In 1893 Loius Comfort Tiffany shocks the world with his innovative stained glass windows in the White City at the World's Fair in Chicago. Tiffany is not the business man his father is, but he is a visionary for a new art aesthetic. A large part of this book describes the painstaking process of making stained glass mosaics, lampshades, windows, and other items from concept through completion. As an artist, I am fascinated about the process, but I wonder if other readers might get bored with it. Tiffany owns his own glass factory in Queens, and the process always begins with the gorgeous and varied glass. At the Tiffany studios, the women's division, led by Clara Driscoll, design almost all of the stained glass lampshades. Tiffany runs a tight ship, and doesn't allow any of the women to continue to work for him once married. Clara leaves him when she marries only to return to the company once widowed.
The story is told from Clara's point of view, and I find her to be a complex and lovable character. She wears so may hats in the novel: artist, leader, lover, progressive, friend, advisor, manager, and encourager. Clara is definitely an encourager to everyone in her life, and this is what I love most about her. Clara was never given credit publicly for her beautify designs, and this breaks my heart because according to her letters, she never allowed discouragement to affect her love for art. After several complicated relationships with men (most of them platonic) Clara must decide whether to remain with Tiffany's or choose a different path for the love of a good man.
I highly recommend this book. Another thing worth mentioning about the book are the many quotes of Walt Whitman poetry. I loved this about the book, but I could have done without the Dickinson. I know that America only produced basically two decent poets during the nineteenth century, but only Whitman was genius. When I taught Dickinson to high school students (I had to as it was part of the curriculum) I always brought in a recording of The Yellow Rose of Texas because all of her poems can be sung to the tune of it. I really don't think that an intelligent, creative woman like Clara would have really appreciated Dickinson. Sorry for the digression and commentary! ;P
Susan Vreeland discusses Clara and Mr. Tiffany @ Beauty and the Book Club
What have you been reading lately?
This is a linky!