Jgrace's Reviews > Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
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's review
Feb 15, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, audio, jgrace, 20th-century, america, american-history, art, judithg, biographical-fiction, read-in-2011, new-york-city, new-york
Read from June 27 to 30, 2011

Clara and Mr. Tiffany - Susan Vreeland
Audio version read by Kimberly Farr
4 stars
Clara Driscoll was one of a select group of woman who worked in the glass studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany in the early 20th century. Early in this century, letters written by Clara Driscoll revealed her personal contribution to the Tiffany legend. Susan Vreeland has used this information to write an entertaining novel of Clara’s life in turn of the century New York City.

Based on her letters, Clara Driscoll has finally been recognized as the primary designer of the iconic Tiffany lamps. Vreeland uses this information to imagine Clara’s artistic process. She has invented probable settings and interactions that were the source of Clara’s inspiration and details the elaborate process of manufacture.

In addition to her artistic endeavors, Clara was the manager of the women’s division of the Tiffany studio. Vreeland gives individual personalities to the formerly anonymous women who produced these beautiful works of art. In Clara’s voice, she honors their talent, their camaraderie and the underlying hardship of their lives. It is the time of the burgeoning women’s movement. One overriding theme of the book is Mr. Tiffany’s rule that no married woman may continue to work in the studio. Clara struggles throughout the book with the conflict between her ordinary desire for love and marriage and her satisfaction in her artistic work.

This is a fascinating period of time in the history of New York City. Vreeland contrives to put Clara and her boarding house friends in many of the city’s prominent settings. They ride the first subway, tour the Flat Iron building before its official opening and witness the first ball to drop in Times Square on a New year’s Eve. My only complaint with the book, is that it does seem contrived. I could always feel the touch of the author causing the historical figures to act as she chose. I could never quite believe in the character’s behavior and conversations. I was very interested in the lengthy descriptions of how the works of art were produced, but these passages might become tedious to some readers. Even though the book is flawed in some ways, it was for the most part a very interesting and enjoyable read.

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