Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Credit Where it is Due

In recent years, letters that an employee of Tiffany Studio sent to her family members have surfaced.  These letters indicate that a woman named Clara Driscoll, who worked for the studio, may have been the designer behind Tiffany's famous lampshades.  This discovery is the foundation of Susan Vreeland's new novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany is written as sort of an expose' where the reader is supposed to get the idea that Louis Tiffany really didn't have so much to do with his famous Tiffany glass, particularly the lampshades. Although I don't know for sure because I found the picture above at Google images, the lamp that is pictured looks very much like a lamp described in the book as being designed by Clara.

Clara is petulant about the fact that she doesn't get more credit for her work, even when she is named as the designer for a certain work that won a prize at the Paris World Fair of 1900.  But actually, the idea of an employee being responsible for art credited to someone more famous is nothing new.  We had never heard of Clara Driscoll prior to about 2008, but we had not heard much about any other designer who worked for Louis Tiffany either.  Likewise, we have not heard about the jewelry designers who worked for Louis Tiffany's famous father, Charles Tiffany, at his little shop, Tiffany and Company.  Another example is the famous sculptor, Auguste Rodin, who actually didn't sculpt.  He designed the statutes and busts, but then would hire unnamed no ones to physically carve the stone to fit his vision.  So really, what could Clara expect?  A Clara Driscoll lamp would have never sold as well as a Tiffany, but now, thanks to Vreeland and the others who uncovered her role, the "Driscolls" will probably be among the most valuable of the Tiffanys.

While Clara is complaining about not getting her due, she reveals a good deal about the progressive ways of Louis Tiffany, which are much to his credit.  For instance, Clara was able to work at Tiffany Studio because unlike the other glass studios of the time, Tiffany believed in hiring women.  He even paid them the same as the men, causing the men to strike in protest.  If Vreeland is accurate, he also hired the physically disabled, homosexuals, and people in interracial marriages.  While he battled his demons, Clara has to concede that without Louis Tiffany, his materials, his teachings, and his funding, she could not have been a glass designer, and certainly would not have been in charge of an entire department in such a well known company. 

The Afterward reveals that many of the more minor characters, including most of the people who lived in Clara's boarding house, were also real people who went on to attain various degrees of success and anonymity. If this boarding house existed today it would be very tempting to pack up and move in.  The house was full of people who cared for one another, and entertained each other by performing plays or reading poetry in the evenings.  The men's favorite poet was Walt Whitman, and if I hadn't already read Leaves of Grass I certainly would have added it to my TBR list after reading Clara.

Next up on CD:  The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

Almost done reading:  Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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