Clara Driscoll (Tiffany glass designer)

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Clara Driscoll in a workroom with another Tiffany employee (1901)

Clara Driscoll (2 April 1861 – 6 November 1944) of Tallmadge, Ohio was director of the Tiffany Studios' Women's Glass Cutting Department (the "Tiffany Girls"), in New York City. They chose the colors and type of glass to be used in the studios' famous glass items. Before her arrival the lamps had a static and geometric look and feel. As the creative force behind the Tiffany lamp she was director, designer and crafter of the more than thirty Tiffany lamps produced by the company; among them the famous Wisteria, Dragonfly, Peony, and from all accounts her first — the Daffodil.

Virtually nothing was known about Driscoll until quite recently. It had always been thought that Louis Comfort Tiffany was the chief designer behind the greatest of the Tiffany leaded lamps.[1][2][3][4][5]

Biography[edit]

Clara Driscoll was born Clara Pierce Wolcott on April 2, 1861. She lost her father at the age of 12. Unusual for that time, she, along with her equally bright and motivated three younger sisters, was encouraged to pursue a higher education. Clara showed a flair for art, and after attending the Western Reserve School of Design for Women (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) and working for a local furniture maker, she moved to New York and enrolled at the then new Metropolitan Museum Art School. Her artistic potential was apparent and she was hired by the famed Tiffany Studios. She remained there, designing and directing the designs of lamps, mosaics, windows, and other decorative objects for more than 20 years.

Driscoll's first husband, Francis Driscoll, died and she remained a widow until remarrying in 1909, an event which ended her career at Tiffany, as married women were not allowed to work there.

All records for Tiffany Studios were lost after it closed in the early 1930s. It was only through the combined efforts of Martin Eidelberg (professor emeritus of art history at Rutgers University), another independent scholar and former curator at the New-York Historical Society, and Margaret K. Hofer (curator of decorative arts, New-York Historical Society), that Clara Driscoll's involvement in designing Tiffany lamps was widely publicized. However, a book published in 2002 entitled Tiffany Desk Treasures, by George A. Kemeny and Donald Miller, had already named Clara Driscoll as the designer of Tiffany's signature Dragonfly lampshade, as well as a significant contributor to Tiffany Glass—four years before Eidelberg and Gray went public with their discovery in 2006. The book also cited Driscoll as being one of the highest paid females of her time, earning $10,000 per year.

Dragonfly Lamp, ca. 1900 Brooklyn Museum
A Louis Comfort Tiffany & Co. Daffodil leaded glass table lamp (shade shown), designed by Tiffany's head designer, Clara Driscoll.

While doing research for a book on Tiffany at the Queens Historical Society, a curator found the historically valuable letters written by Driscoll to her mother and sisters during the time she was employed at Tiffany.[2][3] The New York Times quoted a curator as saying: "They brought out two books and several boxes, all letters, and I think the first thing I read was about how she had designed a daffodil lamp. And I started squealing. At the top it said something like ‘Noon at Tiffany’s,’ so it was during her lunch hour. What do you do with something like that?” Martin Eidelberg had seen the correspondence independently and after comparing notes their conclusion was beyond doubt. It was Clara Driscoll and the "Tiffany Girls" who had created many of the Tiffany lamps originally attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany and his staff of male designers.

The New-York Historical Society's exhibit "A New Light on Tiffany" (November 27, 2006) showcasing Driscoll's (and her "girls'") work was the result of the investigative efforts of Eidelberg and two others. The New York Times on February 25, 2007 reported: "As the exhibition was being installed, some of these little metal silhouettes used to make a gorgeous daffodil lamp shade were still jumbled in a box on a storage table. Meaningless on their own, when put in order they bring to life an exquisite object, just as the show itself, a puzzle now assembled, illuminates the talented women who had long stood in the shadow of a celebrated man."

The book A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls was published in 2007. It "presents celebrated works of Tiffany Studios in an entirely new context, focusing on the women who labored behind the scenes to create the masterpieces now inextricably linked to the Tiffany name." [6]


References[edit]

  1. ^ Kate Taylor (February 13, 2007). "Tiffany's Secret Is Over". Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  2. ^ a b Caitlin A. Johnson (April 15, 2007). "Tiffany Glass Never Goes Out Of Style". CBS News.com. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  3. ^ a b Jeffrey Kastner (February 25, 2007). "Out of Tiffany’s Shadow, a Woman of Light". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  4. ^ Vivian Goodman (January 14, 2007). "Exhibition Honors Woman Behind the Tiffany Lamp". National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  5. ^ Staff writer (April 7, 2006). "Spare Times". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  6. ^ http://www.amazon.com/dp/1904832350