Illuminating: CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY by Susan Vreeland

Clara and Mr. Tiffany



By Susan Vreeland
Read by Kimberly Farr
Audio CD | 960 minutes
Publisher: Books On Tape (2011)

All formats by Penguin Random House
Hardcover: Random House; First Edition edition (January 11, 2010)
Ebook January 11, 2011
Random House Paperback
Paperback: 448 pages March 20 2012
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 20, 2012)


Audiobook borrowed from state library system. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.


Louis Comfort Tiffany would stop at nothing
for the sake of beauty.
Clara Wolcott Driscoll created it for him.

During the Gilded Age just before the turn of the twentieth century, Tiffany forged his reputation in stained-glass. His highly recognizable style blended Art Nouveau, the exoticism of the Aesthetics Movement, and his own adoration of nature.

Until recently, it was assumed that he was the designer of the celebrated leaded-glass lampshades. However, two collections of letters reveal that an unrecognized woman, Clara Driscoll, designed the floral shades as well as many of the bronze bases.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany presents these two figures–one the giant of American decorative arts, the other unknown–as they engage each other, collaborating, probing and frustrating each other, stumbling over their passions.

Driven by the Tiffany Family Imperative to honor his father, owner of Tiffany & Co., by surpassing his elder’s fame and financial success, Tiffany confronts the central issue in the Arts and Crafts debate: art versus industry, and its concomitant, creative indulgence versus financial restraint.

Yearning to establish herself as a creator of exquisite pieces of art, and to be recognized publically, Clara is a vibrant, intelligent, wry woman, a leader whose challenge, like that of many women, is to decide what makes her most happy–the professional world of her hands, or the personal world of her heart.

The novel interprets her creative and personal life, her loves, losses, triumphs, and her startling decisions.


My Take Oblong


I totally enjoyed this book about a real woman, Clara Driscoll and her boss, Louis Comfort Tiffany.  As a woman who had to work, and a talented artist, she created many of the designs that Tiffany Studios were famous for.

There are a lot of layers to this story involving women’s rights, intellectual property issues, sex, marriage, friendship and mental illness. This story took place a little over 100 years ago, a time of political, intellectual and artistic upheaval. I loved the many conversations about beauty and artistic process; women’s rights to even be involved in the arts was still in question. 

The time period covers the end of the Victorian era and moves into the much more liberal Edwardian period.

Tiffany’s personality, is explored and I thought this was fascinating.  I also thought the way Vreeland interprets Clara though her letters is a true work of art. I can’t imagine how long it took.
That he had women working for him was of interest all by itself. The work “departments” were divided into the men’s and women’s departments. The women did everything but the glazing. They did a design, or Mr Tiffany brought them one, created the pattern sheet — a cartoon, onto which cut glass was fixed.  Once a woman married she was out.  The reasons were not explained but it was how it worked. At some point the Men at Tiffany’s felt threatened by the women and tried to get them ousted. The department barely survived.  As the manager, Clara was eventually invited to speak at events and in Boston.

Clara’s love life is explored.  Clara is pictured in my Featured image above in the sepia toned photograph. She developed a lot of the innovations used in the design and production of the Tiffany lamps.

I loved the book, but I could feel the difficulty mixing known facts and supposition in to a novel; the personal aspects felt brittle. I didn’t really believe some of it. Other aspects are really well done.

One really interesting thing is the bohemian boarding house where Clara lives.  She and some of the gay men that live there become very close.  These men were out in their boarding house and they were accepted. This may be interpreted by the author, but that is why it is fiction and not biography. 

In any event it was fascinating and the narrator was also really effective.  I highly recommend it. And check out Vreeland’s website for more info on the period!

Links Blue Horizontal