Clara Driscoll, the Light Behind Tiffany
What makes Tiffany lamps so iconic? Is it the name “Tiffany” that evokes greatness? Or is it the precise craftsmanship and delicate intricacies of the design?
To quote the Bard,
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2).
For decades Louis Comfort Tiffany was attributed as the creator of the ever famous lamps. And his last name, Tiffany, became synonymous with elegance and beauty. The lamps were seminal and what all designers strived to render. Today, a Tiffany lamp can be worth anywhere from $4,000 to over $1 million. The most ever paid for an original was $2.8 million in 1997 at a Christie’s auction.
However, thanks to the diligent research of Martin Eidelberg, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Rutgers University, Independent Scholar Nina Gray, and the Historical Society’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Margaret K. Hofer, light was shone on Tiffany’s legacy and a falsity uncovered.
The true designer of the innovative lamps was a woman, Clara Driscoll. This revelation was never mentioned in the Tiffany Studios publicity, because Tiffany never disclosed the names of his designers, preferring to keep the public focus on his own considerable artistic and business talents. Also, the records of the studio were lost after the company closed in the early 1930s.
Clara worked at Tiffany Studios off and on for more than 20 years. Engaged or married women were not allowed to work at the company, so Driscoll had to leave because of her marriage in 1889. After Driscoll’s first husband Francis Driscoll died in 1892, she resumed working for Tiffany Studios and remained until her marriage to Edward A. Booth in 1909.
Clara is now accredited to designing over 30 lamps and numerous other desk and boudoir accoutrements. Driscoll designed many of the most iconic Tiffany leaded-glass lamps from Dragonfly, Cobweb, and Butterfly to Wisteria, Poppy, Laburnum, Arrowhead, Geranium, and the innovative Flying Fish shade and Deep Sea mosaic and glass-jeweled base. Most researchers now believe it was Clara who originated the entire concept of kerosene- and then electric-powered lamps of leaded glass for Tiffany.
Thanks to those historians, credit is now given where credit is due. Clara Driscoll life’s work is finally attributed to her.
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Terrebonne, J. (2019). Food and Design Come Together at the 2017 Edible Schoolyard NYC Benefit – Galerie. [online] Galerie. Available at: https://www.galeriemagazine.com/top-chefs-devise-innovative-menus-edible-schoolyard-nyc-benefit/ [Accessed 23 Jul. 2019].
Cia.edu. (2019). Breaking Tiffany’s Glass Ceiling: Clara Wolcott Driscoll (1861-1944) | Cleveland Institute of Art. [online] Available at: https://www.cia.edu/news/stories/breaking-tiffanys-glass-ceiling-clara-wolcott-driscoll-1861-1944 [Accessed 23 Jul. 2019].
Kastner, J. (2019). Clara Driscoll – Tiffany Lamps – New-York Historical Society. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/25/arts/design/25kast.html?scp=3&sq=clara%20driscoll%20and%20tiffany&st=cse [Accessed 23 Jul. 2019].