Thursday, August 30, 2012
Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
Inspired by letters written by Clara Driscoll, Susan Vreeland has pieced together an account of the creation of the leaded-glass lamp and the dominance of Tiffany Studios. Once thought to be the brainchild of Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the King of Diamonds, Vreeland brings to life the work and devotion of Clara, the real creator of this art form. Tiffany's decision to hire female workers protected him from male workers' union strikes, but he refused to hire married women. Luckily (for him, at least) Clara's romances didn't tend to take hold, and she was able to focus her love for art and her leadership abilities on designing one-of-a-kind masterpieces and building up a women's department in a male-dominated work force.
While I was pulled along by Clara's romantic life and entertained by the cast of characters, the great detailing of how glass lampshades, mosaics, and windows are made was boring. I had no interest in the process to begin with, and Vreeland was meticulous in her descriptions. Personally I think if this aspect had been downplayed slightly, the book could have been shorter and fuller. The in-depth analysis was just too much for me.
I also felt the timing of the book to be a bit erratic. Sometimes months were skipped just as a big project or life decision had to be made, and in the next chapter the big moment had already passed and we were in the future. It was a bit disconcerting, as I had expected more details, but overall it kept the book flowing.
On the plus side, I do love historical fiction and I feel I have a greater understanding of not only Tiffany glass products, but also life at the turn on the 20th century. The characters (and in most cases the real people behind them) are full of life and just the sort of people I would want to know. Dedicated, artistic, eccentric, amicable, and lovable, Vreeland brought to life a group of people that could easily have disappeared into history, if it hadn't been for Clara's letters.
And Clara. Oh, Clara. I think she epitomized the dilemma for women during this time, trying to remain polished and Victorian while at the same time yearning to be a New Woman. Vreeland did a wonderful job of capturing the inner turmoil most women must have felt as they were thrust into a new age. Clara's personal/romantic life is really what kept me going; I couldn't help but cheer her on.
Overall, a good story populated by interesting characters. Worth reading, even if you aren't all that interested in the process behind leaded glass art. And if you are, all the better.
3 out of 5 stars.