Clara Driscoll: A Secret Genius At Tiffany Studios

Wisteria Lamp, designed by Clara Driscoll. The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, by Martin Eidelberg, et al. Vendome Press, New York, 2005.
Wisteria Lamp, designed by Clara Driscoll. The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, by Martin Eidelberg, et al. Vendome Press, New York, 2005.

A NEW WOMAN come to life! Clara Driscoll was the sort of gal who bicycled around Manhattan in a short skirt (above the ankles), actively followed politics and happened to design some of the most beautiful pieces of American decorative art for her boss Louis Tiffany like the lamp above. Her letters seem to suggest that she may have come up with the nature themed lamps altogether. Louis Tiffany is quoted as saying,  “A lamp may be as much an object of art as a painting or a piece of statuary. In fact, it should be,” but as Susan Vreeland notes, never mentions who first designed them.

The artist at work. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The artist at work.
Metropolitan Museum of Art

This doesn’t mean he didn’t appreciate Clara. Although at first he was adamantly opposed to hiring women, he had a small group of them who handled the intricate glass cutting of some of his projects. After Clara’s husband died she went back to work for him.

Once it became clear what a talent she was “he rewarded Clara by giving her ever greater responsibility, an expansive budget, considerable artistic freedom, invitations to his home studio, and in the summer of 1907, a deluxe three-month trip abroad to photograph and sketch in Brittany with Tiffany himself and several other artists from the firm. For as long as he was able, he defended her imaginative but costly designs against the more pragmatic assessments of his managerial staff and eventually a strike of the men’s department.”  Breaking Tiffany’s Glass Ceiling

Unknown artists on Tiffany roof.
Unknown artists on Tiffany roof.

“. . . this is rather difficult work, but when one has a fondness for a certain brand of industry, she does not pause when a difficulty must be overcome.… The work is a new departure for women, and I believe that they like it. For myself, I am exceedingly fond of it, much more so than of mere designing.”



8 Comments Add yours

  1. sknicholls says:

    A part of Tiffany I did not know about. We have the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art near us, which houses the most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany found anywhere.


    1. So many layers to history!


  2. I love seeing how people invent new. Sometimes it works–if there’s a need. Other times, it fades away.


    1. Do you mean in the “New Woman” sense?


  3. barbtaub says:

    What a fantastic post! I had no idea that women were involved in Tiffany’s work. Recently I toured the Waterford gallery and watched some of the amazing artisans—all men—on the creative floor. They said that women had never been allowed into the (decades long) apprenticeship program. The company has gone through many tough times, and there haven’t been new apprentices in almost twenty years. But they’ve just admitted the first class of new apprentice candidates, and some are women.


    1. I wonder why Waterford kept women out. I actually don’t have a problem with restricting hiring, etc. if it’s a private company I think they should be able to do as they like–even if it’s stupid. Does the work entail something women are physically unfit for? I guess Tiffany was happy he got over his initial reservations about women. 🙂


  4. Love that lamp! The way the glass “drapes” instead of that boxy style (which is lovely, too, but this is so unexpected!) Thanks for sharing the pics & the story!


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I felt the lamp really needed to be admired 🙂 My dogs would knock it over in three seconds flat!


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