Tiffany Girls
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Nina Gray

Gray: Several important clues led to the discovery that women had a direct role in the creation of lamps, windows and other luxury objects long thought to be designed exclusively by Louis Comfort Tiffany, [Tiffany Studios] founder and artistic director.

     One of those clues was an article published in 1894 titled “Women Workers in Glass at the Tiffany Studios.” We now know that a women’s glass-cutting department at Tiffany’s originated in 1892 when the Men’s Lead Glaziers and Glass Cutters went on strike citywide, and the stained glass business came to a screeching halt. At the time, Tiffany was preparing for his big, splashy exhibition at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He was organizing a huge display with a chapel and was trying to get this work done when they went on strike, so he hired women from art schools. He started out with a department of six women and discovered that they could actually do really, really good work. In less than two years, the department grew to 35 women.

     Another clue was in an article published in 1904 in the New York Daily News titled “Women Who Make $10,000 a Year or More.” It included a picture of Clara Driscoll and the Dragonfly lamp, captioned “Mrs. Driscoll’s prize-winning lamp.” This was the first and only time that an actual design for a leaded-glass lamp was credited to a particular designer.

Tiffany Girls on the roof of Tiffany Studios, circa 1904-05. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, FL.

     Clara Driscoll was a designer at Tiffany Studios between 1888 and 1909 and responsible for many of the firm’s most iconic lamps, including the Wisteria, Dragonfly and Poppy. She

was also the manager of a large department of young women, known as the Tiffany Girls, who specialized in selecting and cutting glass for windows, lamp shades and mosaics. Driscoll was born in Ohio in 1861, and she attended the Western Reserve School of Art. She moved to New York in 1888 to attend the Metropolitan Museum School of Art before joining Tiffany.

Wisteria lamp, designed by Clara Driscoll circa 1901. New York Historical Society, Gift of Dr. Egon Neustadt.

    In the writings of the period, women were said to have nimble fingers, a lot of patience for cutting glass and a finer sense of color nuance. If you go to the exhibition [A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, running Feb. 20-May 28 at The New York Historical Society], you’ll see two Wisteria lamps side by side. One really looks like Wisteria blossoms with delicate color gradations in tones of blue, bluish purple and white. Next to

it is one with stripes of blue and white. It isn’t subtle at all. I put those two lamps side by side with the intention of suggesting that maybe men made the latter one.

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