The person I would like to meet: Clara Driscoll the real designer of Tiffany lamps

I have a soft spot for unsung heroes, those who labor and create but watch someone else get all the credit. When it comes to Clara Driscoll, Louis Comfort Tiffany is the guy who got the credit. Clara worked for him at Tiffany Studios where she designed the most famous leaded glass lamps – Dragonfly, Wisteria, and others – also windows and other decorative items. But you never would have known it at the time.

Credit vs. creativity. I’d like to ask her whether it all balanced out. Mr T. took the credit, but she got to do what she was meant to – create and design, manage her “girls” who would select the glass used in Tiffany lamps and other pieces, advocate for the designs she preferred, and nudge Mr. Tiffany and his team of male designers beyond their preference for geometric designs and toward the flowing nature-based shades and windows she promoted as a new aesthetic. The customers responded.

Her role as creator wasn’t revealed until 2002 when independent researchers began publishing proof, based in part by recently discovered correspondence between Clara and her mother and sisters. The revelation that Clara was indeed the designer came a little late for Clara to enjoy, as she died in 1944.

She is said to have been very well-paid for a woman at the time, earning $10,000 per year. But she couldn’t overcome the social strictures in place in her day. Once a young widow, after working at Tiffany for 20 years Clara was out, because she re-married and married women could not work there. I wonder what she would have done next. I’d like to ask her about that too.

Whenever I see a Tiffany lamp or window, I give a nod to Clara and her success both artistic and monetary, and wonder how many other unsung hero stories still are untold. I’ll be watching for them.

 

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