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Read an Excerpt from Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Read an Excerpt from Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

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3.77

(176)
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Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color.

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.
Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color.

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

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Published by: Random House Publishing Group on Jan 19, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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01/03/2014

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Activity (41)

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elsyd_19 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Even though I found some of the description tedious, this was really interesting and informative reading. I had some knowledge of the art of leading glass but no idea that women were so instrumental in the Tiffany legacy.
scgervais reviewed this
Rated 5/5
I really enjoyed this book, but then I love art and was fascinated by the stained glass aspect of it.
paperbackpirate reviewed this
Rated 3/5
Clara and Mr. Tiffany is a historical fiction novel about Tiffany Glass in its early stages and subsequent take-off after the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.In real life Clara was a designer for Mr. Tiffany. The story centers around her as she fights for women's rights in the work place and passionately designs stained glass lamps. My favorite parts of the story were all the period pieces: Clara's love for Walt Whitman and sorrow upon hearing the news of his death, Clara getting a "wheel" (bicycle) and enjoying the freedom of exploring the city on it, and the plight of the suffragettes.I liked this book but I didn't love it like I loved Luncheon of the Boating Party. There is a lot of time spent in the story describing the process of making, selecting, and cutting glass. I felt like it became tedious after awhile, but my friend from book club loved that part. So I think your enjoyment of this book will center around your desire to learn in a technical way how those beautiful stained glass lamps are made.
bacreads reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I will not see a Tiffany piece (or copy) without thinking of Clara and her girls who made these beautiful artworks. Vreeland tells a story that is not well known and makes the characters come to life. This book has made me want to learn more about Louis Tiffiany, his company and the effect on art and purchasing of art. A minor complaint is that I think the explanation of making each piece becomes a bit too repetitive and doesn't really add to the story.
brokenteepee reviewed this
Rated 5/5
This was so much more than a book about Louis Comfort Tiffany and his studio. It was a book about America at the turn of the 20th century. It was about working conditions for women, it was about art and yes, it WAS about the ego of a man possessed with a love of glass.I didn't know that Louis Tiffany employed a division of women to create some of his glorious glass masterpieces. (If you have never seen one...ooooh, they are heavenly.) Reading this tale was like falling back into the past and once I did it was so very hard to leave. I really didn't want to put the book down. I started it and stayed up until 3:30AM to finish it. It was well worth the sleepless night. The writing is engrossing and the story was fascinating. I so wanted to go back and meet Clara even though my modern sensibilities wanted to give her a kick in the pants at times - not that she would be wearing pants....Mr. Tiffany was a man of genius but a very poor businessman as often happens. He flitted from passion to passion with little thought to marketability. One of those flits was glass lampshades - whether the idea was his or Clara's well, read the book. You won't be disappointed. You too will be transported to a different time. You will fall into the kaleidoscope of color and not want to come out.
thelostentwife reviewed this
Rated 4/5
My first experience with Tiffany Stained Glass was about seven years ago. My sister and I were going to garage sales around the Atlanta area and happened across an unopened box. Inside of the box was a beautiful, dome-shaped hanging lampshade... and the name on the box said it was Tiffany style. Now, granted, it was not one of Clara's famous designs, but it made me curious. You see, up until this point my experience with the Tiffany name was solely through a famous movie and the idea of a beautiful blue box with a white ribbon. Then we happened across this lamp.Last summer I visited New York for the first time. I saw the tasteful, elegant facade of the famous Tiffany store, but still - the image of that lamp springs to my mind anytime I see the Tiffany name now. So it was only natural that I would be drawn to this book.I will be honest, however. I did no research, and until I read this book I had no idea that the Tiffany behind the lamps was the son of "Tiffany & Co." What I also had no idea of was the hard work of the unmarried women, and just how little recognition they received at the time. Vreeland's descriptions of Clara's work, among others, was gorgeous. I could see the designs in my minds eye, I could imagine the images being described and felt them coming to life. My biggest complaint about this book is the lack of connection I felt to Clara.I don't know if that lack of connection came from the writing, or the fact that so much information is packed into this book. I feel as if I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, having to make a choice between falling for the story or falling for the details. I was lured by the lushness of the detail, so I think that it was inevitable that I was unable to connect to Clara.In spite of that, I will recommend this book - because I have no doubt that others will find Clara and her story mesmerizing, and because this story is one that needed to be told. I will not feel silly for including in the picture of Audrey Hepburn and blue boxes, the gorgeous styling of Tiffany Stained Glass. It has a rich history and deserves to be remembered.
whitreidtan reviewed this
Rated 4/5
History is written by the victors, those with money, and for a long time, exclusively by men. Women's contributions to arts and sciences remained all but unacknowledged with others being given credit for their innovations. Susan Vreeland's novel Clara and Mr. Tiffany probes one such omission and creates a fantastic story out of the tale. Based on real people and what is actually known about them and their artistic endeavors, this novel suggests, with good historical probability, that Clara Driscoll, the head designer in Tiffany's Women's Department was in fact the genesis, creator, and designer of the gorgeous iconic leaded glass Tiffany lamps rather than Louis Comfort Tiffany himself.Opening with the recently widowed Clara returning to Tiffany studios to ask for her job back, the novel tracks her life, her rise as an artist, her inspiration, and her fight for equality and acknowledgement within her chosen field. Clara is innovative and creative and she suggests to Mr. Tiffany that they consider making leaded glass lampshades so that those unable or unwilling to commission stained glass windows for their homes or churches, will be able to have a smaller jewel of a piece to admire in their own homes. Clara's passion for her lamp idea drives her professionally even as she and the girls (all young, all unmarried) she's hired into the studio continue to work on the commissioned showpiece windows as well. In hiring and teaching other women to select and cut the glass, Clara describes the artistic process by which Tiffany's masterpieces were made allowing the reader insights into this slow and exacting process.While her work fulfills and consumes her, Clara's personal life is rather bumpier than her professional one. She develops close and dear friendships with many of the boarders in her boarding house, many of whom are artists themselves, and they come to have a personal interest in her successes. She also embarks, tentatively, on a relationship with the brother of one of her dear friends. Her ability to trust after her disastrous first marriage is slow to develop, hampered as well by Tiffany's policy of not employing married women. Any relationship to which she fully commits will deprive her of an outlet for her art and creativity. She is torn by the need to make her art and her desire to be loved. And so her relationships with the opposite sex are considered and deliberate and gradual.Clara is an interesting character, prickly and yet motherly, timid yet firm. She is caught at the crossroads between Victorian morality and etiquette and the nascent women's movement. She tries to work within the system, swallowing her rage at the precariousness of her second class status until she can no longer do so at the risk of her job. She cares deeply for the women under her in her department, involving herself in their lives outside the workshop and trying to help these mostly immigrant girls and indeed any artistically inclined women to better themselves. Louis Comfort Tiffany is also interestingly drawn here. He is a many faceted character, object of Clara's devotion, artistic, whimsical, autocratic, demanding, and ultimately impotent in the face of almighty commerce. He and Clara maintain a mentor/mentee relationship most of the time although there are moments of true collaboration and certainly mutual respect for each others' artistic talents. Neither Clara nor Mr. Tiffany is presented without flaws, making them human and their interactions more believable. The secondary characters have fascinating back stories themselves although they, by necessity, only touch on and shoot through the main tale, part of the whole but not the major focus of the piece.The plot line is a little slow and concentrates on the admittedly extraordinary arc of Clara's mostly solo life for 16 years. Historical happenings and attitudes are woven into the narrative beautifully so that the reader can appreciate just how people lived at the time and on the cusp of wonderous huge change. The glimpse into Tiffany's studio and the innovative women's department is instructive and fascinating. Part women's history, part social history, part art history, this is a wonderful read that reminds us all of the necessity for beauty and love and art in everyday life. Tiffany tells his girls that he doesn't believe in limits and that they need to learn to see beauty and this novel helps us as readers to remember both of these important things as well.
bigorangecat_1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
The plot was very interesting and well-written, but the too-frequent passages of explaining the technical processes of art glass-making made the book drag for me.
etxgardener reviewed this
Rated 3/5
Susan Vreesland's latest novel is about Clara Driscoll, the woman who created Louis Comfort Tiffany's incredible stained glass lamps. Clara is a recently widowed woman when she joinsthe Ladies Department of Tiffany's desigan studio. Clara is full of life & ready to embrace Mr. Tiffany's philosophy of art for art's sake, but runs afoul of both the business side of the business as well as the men's glass cutters union.Clara also finds it difficult to reconcile her devotion to work and her need for a personal love life. One romance ends disastrously, while another seemingly takes forever to be consummated,While this is a fascinating story, it is somewhat flat in Ms.. Vreeland's telling. The character of Clara never seems to be fully developed, and in her zeal to show hose much research was done into the subject of glass making, the descriptions get too detailed and the reader longs for the story to move along.Still, one is grateful to Miss Vreeland for bringing Driscoll's remarkable artistic achievement to light.
arthistorychick reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Historical fiction author Susan Vreeland has done it again! In her latest novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel, Vreeland creates a wonderfully compelling story of an artist and the world she lived and worked in. This fascinating story traces sixteen years of Clara Driscoll’s life between 1892 and 1908, the years she served as head of the Women’s Department at the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. Vreeland asserts in her novel that it was in fact Clara Driscoll and not Louis Comfort Tiffany who hit upon the idea for the now famous Tiffany lamps!Vreeland does not make this radical claim without proof and true to form she has woven this particular story around extant historical documentation. In this instance, Vreeland was able to use Clara Driscoll’s own words as expressed in her letters which were discovered in 2005. Vreeland’s novel is filled with details and descriptions of life in New York City. In fact, these descriptions are one of the novel’s greatest strengths; Vreeland’s ability to create such incredible images with her words gives the reader the opportunity to completely understand what life was like for an unmarried woman living and working in turn of the century New York. Clara Driscoll’s time at the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company was not just about her creation and designing the leaded glass lamps but also about the creation and flourishing of the Women’s Department with Clara as its head. In a time when women barely had any rights at all, Clara Driscoll saw that her girls earned a fair wage and were treated with respect. Admittedly, these issues were not always easy ones and Vreeland expertly deals with the social aspects of women in the workplace. Vreeland also deals with the personal struggles and sacrifices Clara and her girls made during their time with the Tiffany Company. For instance, per company policy, all of the women working for Louis Comfort Tiffany had to remain unmarried. This policy becomes problematic for many of the women but especially for Clara who constantly struggles with her need to be recognized as a true artist and her desire to be married. This policy turns into a very clever way for Vreeland to develop the story lines of some of the minor characters, many of which are incredibly delightful and well developed. Another of Vreeland’s greatest strengths lies in Vreeland’s ability to describe the leaded glass making processes without becoming bogged down in technical jargon. All of the descriptions are expertly woven into the plot line so that they become a part of the novels’ fabric and not independent or boring descriptions of glass making. As you proceed through the novel you find yourself holding your breath waiting to find out if a new process or procedure for creating a lamp works or if it will prove to be a total failure. As with all of Vreeland’s historical fiction, the reader becomes completely invested in the characters and their lives. You celebrate the victories just as Clara and her girls did and cry when any one of them experiences either a personal or professional loss This book is beyond being worth your time and energy as a reader; it is a must read if you love historical fiction! Vreeland is a master storyteller and even if you know nothing about Tiffany and Company, the leaded glass industry, or women’s rights in turn of the century New York, you will love this novel.

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