Clara Driscoll worked for Louis Comfort Tiffany during the turn of the twentieth century when women were still finding their way in the world. To say that she just worked for Tiffany Glass Studio limits her significant contributions. Clara inspired, created, designed and had a love affair with the beautiful glass pieces produced in the studio and perhaps Mr. Tiffany as well.
Through the magic of Susan Vreeland’s pen the reader does not have to be knowledgeable or even have a fondness for Tiffany glass to be pulled into the world of this novel. The book is divided into two parts: first the story of the beautiful Tiffany creations and the second being Clara’s personal story. The streets of New York come to life in these pages as do the limitations and struggles of women and the dire straits of inhabitants of New York during these times.
The letters of Clara Driscoll recently discovered served to unlock the world of Tiffany Glass through Clara’s words and masterfully filled in with Susan Vreeland’s injections. Vreeland is a like a plastic surgeon in that she is plumping up the stories as you would lips. Through Vreeland’s research and the assistance of The New York Historical Society Clara’s world was able to come alive in this novel.
The novel runs from 1892-1908 against the rich backdrop of New York. The story begins with Clara Driscoll returning to her position at Tiffany’s after the death of her husband. Married women were not allowed to work at Tiffany’s which remained the policy for the rest of Clara’s career. Going forward when love did present itself to Clara she was torn between her beloved work and these men.
Clara must find a new place to live after the untimely death of her husband who was not the man she thought and who left her penniless. She happens to find a room in Irving Place at Miss Merrie Owen’s boarding house. Clara joined the seventeen boarders at Owen’s boarding house so there was never a shortage of comings and goings.
Clara’s interactions and the fellow boarders and their friends become an integral part of the story. I was anxious to follow her home in order to hear the conversations that ensued or take a seat at the dinner table. Sometimes we even got to spend the weekend with Clara and some of those at the boarding house. And as time went on they intertwined with her life at Tiffany’s. It was quite a dysfunctional family Clara found herself adopted in to.
Additionally we are allowed to join Clara at work. There are meetings with Mr. Tiffany where ideas are hatched and inspiration flows. Mr. Tiffany was a big thinker and a dreamer and he was happy to encourage Clara to do the same. But Tiffany Glass Studio was not profitable and while it was the source of pain for his father the famous jeweler, the man behind Tiffany’s. (Yes that is right the little blue boxes.) In fact, his father had to finance his operations until his death; and then after death with his fortune left to his son.
Clara runs the women’s department at Tiffany’s so we also get to know the women in this group. I felt was transported to the workroom as the beautiful panels, windows, lamps etc… came to life. With each project there was designing, color choices, glass selection, cutting, affixing and a race to finish that was fascinating. There are additional personnel at Tiffany’s that round out the cast of characters in Clara’s life: Frank, Mr. Platt, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Belknap
If you are a Susan Vreeland fan this book will not disappoint, do pick up Clara and Mr. Tiffany. While my favorite Susan Vreeland read thus far is LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY as the painting and the back story she brings to life has special meaning in my life. I cannot wait for Vreeland’s next inspiration as I have no doubt it will result in a read that pulls me in to worlds I have so enjoyed.