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Robb Design Portfolio: Lady and the Lamps

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

In a turn-of-the-century newspaper article, a reporter identified Clara Driscoll as the designer of the Dragonfly Tiffany lamp. Such a revelation was rare, for Louis Comfort Tiffany took pains to conceal the names of his artisans. It turns out that Driscoll was responsible for designing several of the 30 lamps that will appear in an exhibit opening February 23 at the New-York Historical Society (212.873.3400, www.nyhistory.org) in Manhattan. In addition to the lamps, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls will feature newly discovered correspondence Driscoll wrote during her years as head of the Women’s Glass-Cutting Department at Tiffany’s Manhattan studio. The letters link Driscoll to versions of the exhibit’s lamps and iterations of the Peony lamp shown here, which appeared at the Lillian Nassau gallery (212.759.6062, www.lilliannassau.com) in January and is worth $1 million. “Her letters are extremely detailed,” says the exhibit’s cocurator, Margi Hofer. “She describes her daily life to her mother and sister: ‘Today I worked on the design for the Butterfly lamp.’ It was all very explicit.”

 

The letters also indicate that Tiffany was a progressive employer. He entrusted his 27-member female staff with selecting the colored glass for his lamps, and he paid generous wages. Driscoll, who began her tenure in 1888, earned $35 per week in 1904, which is today’s equivalent of almost $750. However, Tiffany insisted that the women resign when they married. Driscoll parted ways with Tiffany three times: first for a marriage that ended in her husband’s death, then for an engagement that was broken off before the wedding, and finally, in 1909, for a second marriage.

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Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company - Paul Foster Books - the NY Antiquarian Book Fair
Photo courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, New York; Li Hongbo