Author: Susan Vreeland
Published: 2011 Trade Paperback
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperback
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction
Paperback Release with book discussion notes: March 2012
This edition includes an afterward that details the history of Tiffany's and the lives of those involved; acknowledgments; Clara and Mr Tiffany: a Reader's Guide including A Conversation With Susan Vreeland and Her Editor, Jane Von Mehren; Questions and Topics for Discussion
Source: a copy was provided by TLC book tours for the purpose of this review. My thoughts and opinions are mine alone and were uninfluenced by receipt of a complimentary copy of Clara and Mr. Tiffany.
It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows that he hopes will earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division, who conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which Tiffany will long be remembered. Never publicly acknowledged, Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces a strict policy: He does not employ married women. Ultimately, Clara must decide what makes her happiest-the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.
|Peacock window panels|
"Beauty is what Nature has lavished upon us as a Supreme Gift" ~ Louis Comfort Tiffany. This is quoted at the front of the novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, and is the source of Tiffany's inspiration. As he appreciated the subtle beauties of nature, the lines and contours, and varying shades thereof; Louis Comfort Tiffany sought to portray the same in his glasswork. His love of nature was shared by Clara Driscoll who headed up the women's division of Tiffany's cartooning and cutting the images in glass and assembling them to make the most beautiful stained glass windows. As artistic freedom was allowed her, Clara came up with the concept and designed, with Mr. Tiffany's input in some cases, exquisite lamp shades and bases. This should have been credited to her, but rarely was the work and creative artistry of another recognized publicly at Tiffany's.
It was Clara's desire and, perhaps her folly, to receive recognition for the work she performed at Tiffany's. When her lamps went to the fairs and received prizes, the recognition was for Tiffany's, not her; which really irked her. At times, this desire consumed her thoughts and influenced her actions but as time passed, Clara's focus expanded beyond herself, making her a far more likeable protagonist.
Clara is a multi-faceted personality whom I enjoyed watching grow throughout the novel. The more involved she became in others' lives, the less self-focused she became, which is true of service, however rendered. She became a leader among women, fighting for women's rights in the workplace, and she was beloved by those she worked with for her courage in facing the little and the big obstacles, assisting those with whom she worked as a trusted soul who cared enough to enter the less-fortunate areas of New York City, and to enter the tenements to help others.
Clara and Mr. Tiffany is a story with wide appeal. For the history buff, the lover of art, a supporter of feminism, a fan of love stories, triumph over trials....it's all here. Susan has fleshed out each character and the ensuing relationships, allowing the individuals to live and breathe as vividly as if the reader knew them personally. Were it not for the artistic license Susan Vreeland necessarily took to develop the storyline due to lack of records, this could very well be a biography of Clara, the creative mind behind the Tiffany lamps.
Note: Historical accuracy is paramount in Clara and Mr. Tiffany. Susan Vreeland explores the world of Tiffany's via letters kept and written by Clara over her years at Tiffany's. Records otherwise are not available, but extensive research by the author gives authenticity to Clara and Mr. Tiffany. The author learned the art of stained glass, travelled to New York for research and attended several exhibits showcasing Tiffany's glass and lamps.
Thank you to TLC book tours and Random House Publications for a complimentary copy of what is now one of my favourite reads of 2012!
Meet the author:
Susan Vreeland is the bestselling author of five books, including Luncheon of the Boating Party, Life Studies, The Passion of Artemisia, The Forest Lover, and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. She lives in San Diego.
To learn more about Susan Vreeland and her work, please visit her website, svreeland.com, or connect with her on Facebook.