Tiffany Lamp Designer Clara Driscoll Receives Her Due
Artist Louis Comfort Tiffany is known for brilliant stained glass lamps, windows and other objects that were created in his studios from the 19th century into the 20th. The Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit, “Tiffany in Bloom: Stained Glass Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany,” showcases some of his most famous pieces, several of which were designed by a woman from Tallmadge.
Clara Driscoll was born in 1861. Driscoll’s father died when she was 12, leaving her mother to raise her and her two sisters. In an era in which it wasn’t common for women to pursue higher education, Driscoll’s mother strongly encouraged her daughters to continue their schooling.
Driscoll attended the Western Reserve Design School for Women (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) before moving to New York, where she eventually landed a job with Tiffany Studios in 1888. Over the next two decades, she worked off and on for Tiffany designing lamps and other items as well as supervising the Women’s Glass Cutting Department, according to CMA's curator of decorative art and design Stephen Harrison.
Tiffany Lamps [Julie Hahn/Cleveland Museum of Art]
Harrison described the process of making the lamps and the important role that the women, known as “selectors,” played in the design.
“The men would blow the glass and into sheets. The women who designed the lamps would then pick the glass according to the color palette that they were trying to achieve, and then they would cut it and into these marvelous shapes. They would give it back to the men to pull it together. It was a real team effort to create one of these magnificent lamps,” Harrison said.
Peony Table Lamp, c. 1901–10. Probably by Clara Wolcott Driscoll (American, 1861–1944), Tiffany Studios (America, 1902–1932). [The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Charles Maurer]
Although Louis Comfort Tiffany had the final say over the look of the lamp, he had no hand in the actual design or construction, which was something he didn’t reveal to the public.
“He was very, very particular about his brand. I think he probably learned that from his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, who had founded the Tiffany and Company jewelry store, the famous one we all know today. Lewis really was very protective of this notion that it was all coming from him and from his studio,” Harrison said.
Within the company, Tiffany was very supportive of Driscoll’s work.
“She became his chief designer. They traveled together to Europe and they would sketch,” Harrison said.
Given how Tiffany closely guarded the notion that he was the designer of the objects made by his studio, he showed how much he appreciated Driscoll’s work by doing something unusual.
“She was really the only one that got any recognition for her designs. After the 1900 World's Fair, the famous ‘peacock’ lamp was illustrated in an art journal. The caption read ‘designed by Clara Driscoll and made by Tiffany Studios,’” Harrison said.
Driscoll’s role as a designer went unknown for the most part until the mid-2000s, when scholars began pouring over her previously unseen letters describing what she did for the company. The exhibit reflects this newly acquired knowledge with some of the lamps directly attributed to her and others described as “probably designed by Driscoll.”
Wisteria Lamp, c. 1902–10. Clara Wolcott Driscoll (American, 1861–1944), Tiffany Studios (America, 1902–1932). [The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Charles Maurer]
“There were a few that we do know she definitely designed, because she spoke of them in terms of the title of them. When she says I designed the ‘peacock’ lamp, or a lamp which we will call the ‘peacock’ lamp, then we know that's hers. Similarly, the wisteria lamp is another one that's definitely by her. But then she went on to write in letters that she really had been responsible for most all of the floral lamps. So while we can't pin exactly which floral lamp she's talking about, most of them must have been designed by Clara Driscoll,” Harrison said.
Pansy Border Table Lamp, c. 1902–10. Probably by Clara Wolcott Driscoll (American, 1861–1944), Tiffany Studios (America, 1902–1932). [The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Charles Maurer]
In her letters, many of which were sent to her family in Tallmadge, Driscoll never expressed any resentment for not being publically acknowledged for her work.
“She was so grateful to be there. She loved it so much. She loved being a young lady in New York City, and so she was very, very happy working with Mr. Tiffany, “ Harrison said.
The Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit “Tiffany in Bloom: Stained Glass Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany” is on view through June 14.
Learn more about Clara Driscoll at this special CMA event
Art in Context: Clara Driscoll and the Women of Tiffany Studios
Saturday, February 29, 2020, 2:00 p.m.
Morley Lecture Hall
Renée Sentilles, professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, and Mark Bassett, instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, join curator Stephen Harrison to discuss the role of women artists in Tiffany Studios, including Ohio native Clara Driscoll, with a focus on the struggle for women’s suffrage in the early 20th century. Free; ticket required.