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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vintage Voice: Tiffany Girls

Louis Comfort Tiffany's (1848-1933) designs have long been renowned for their artistry and fine attention to detail. Although many such pieces bear his name and represent his vision, he was not the sole force behind the creative process. Many people worked for him without receiving much recognition and one such person was Clara Driscoll.
Specializing in architectural decoration at the Metropolitan Museum Art School in New York City, Driscoll began her career with Tiffany Glass Co.(incorporated in1885) at the age of 26. Tiffany only employed un-married women and widows, so Driscoll left three times due to engagements and marriages, but during her three stints with the firm, she became one of the company's best designers. Her talent for designing the signature leaded-glass lampshades, bases and desk sets was evident in some of her most famous models, including the Dragonfly, Wisteria and Poppy designs.
The women she directed also played key roles in the company's success. At her prime, Driscoll managed 35 women in the women's glass-cutting department. The "Tiffany Girls" were well-suited for this type of work, with their nimble fingers, eye for detail and a penchant for decoration. Many of Tiffany's designs benefitted from a woman's touch. However, they were no strangers to the physical demands, particularly once they were able to cut their own glass.
Unfortunately, Driscoll's dedication and talent went largely un-noticed and the success of her designs resulted in resentment among co-workers. She endured many attempts by male workers to close her department, but she ultimately triumphed. Though forced to limit her staff, she was able to design all the lampshades and small luxury goods, including some windows and mosiacs.
Driscoll worked closely with Louis Tiffany, who was keenly aware of her capabilities and supported her decisions on both design and management matters. Her sensibilities extended beyond the studio; she felt very strongly about the condition of her female employees. Because they had to leave once they were married, Driscoll was always frustrated to lose workers, but even more so when they sacrificed their careers and salaries for less successful husbands. Ultimately, she too decided to end her employment and marry.
If you would like to read more about the Tiffany Girls, you can do so in the book, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, by Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray and Margaret K. Hofer.