Inspiration ~ Tiffany Lamps

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Museums are wonderful places to find inspiration, be uplifted, and learn something new. While in New York City last month, I visited several museums including the New York Historical Society on Central Park West at 77th Street. The N-YHS is the oldest museum in New York City, founded in 1804.

The recently redesigned 4th floor includes a Center for Women's History. The space hosts both permanent and temporary exhibitions as well as public programs exploring the "lives and legacies of women who have shaped and continue to shape the American experience."

Tiffany Lamp - Spiderweb

Detail of Tiffany leaded glass shade with cobweb design

I was absolutely enchanted by the vivid colors and intricate designs in the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps and by the story of the Tiffany Girls. The Louis Comfort Tiffany Glass Company had a women's division that made significant contributions to the company, though their stories were virtually unknown until 2005, when several caches of letters written by their manager, Clara Walcott Driscoll, were discovered by Tiffany scholars.

 Tiffany Girls, 1904. Clara Driscoll is on the far left, standing.

Clara Driscoll (1861–1944) worked at the Tiffany Glass Company from around 1890 to 1909, first as a glass cutter, and then as supervisor of the Women's Glasscutting Department, which grew from a small staff of 6 to 35, before being limited to 27 after a strike by the men's division in 1903. The self-called Tiffany Girls designed the cartoons, selected the colors, and cut and wrapped the individual pieces for almost all of the nature-inspired leaded glass windows and lamp shades produced by the company.

Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll, 1900

Clara was a true artist and thrived under the direction of Mr. Tiffany. She found vast inspiration in nature and designed many of Tiffany's most iconic lamps, such as the Dragonfly and Wisteria. It is quite likely that she conceived and developed the lamp shade concept. If you'd like to learn more about Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, there are three books available:

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland (2012)
A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls by Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray & Margaret K. Hofer (2007)
Noon at Tiffany's: An Historical, Biographical Novel by Echo Heron (2012)
Wooden Lamp Block
Wooden lamp block used to create the shade with arrowhead fern design

I learned a lot about the process of glasswork in the exhibition and was surprised to discover the use of a "lamp block"  - which looks like a massive hat block! It is carved of heavy wood, to the shape and dimensions of the desired lamp shade. Its surface is etched with the cartoon (outline) of the final design. It supports the in-progress shade as colored glass is cut then wrapped with copper foil before being soldered.

Wooden Lamp Block

Detail of Wooden Lamp Block

The sophisticated color schemes of the Tiffany lamps were particularly inspiring and I took lots of photos. I'll definitely be referring back to them as I plan the colors of my Spring 2019 collection. Here are a few of my favorites. Louis Comfort Tiffany believed that the female workers possessed a keener sense of color and were better suited to selecting than their male counterparts. I agree!

Tiffany Lamp Shade

Tiffany Glass Shade

Tiffany Shade and Bronze Base

Tiffany Glass Shade


PS ~ If you are a fan of Louis Comfort Tiffany, you MUST go to the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. Their collection has been described as “the most important collection of Tiffany material in the world today.” It includes Tiffany jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows as well as archival materials from LCT -  letters, designs, photographs, early experiments, etc. My favorite display at the Morse is the re-assembled chapel interior, which was originally exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. The Tiffany Chapel is sublime. It literally brought tears to my eyes.

Electrolier at Tiffany Chapel

10' x 8' Electric Chandelier in the 1893 Tiffany Chapel

clara driscoll decorative arts design history inspiration louis comfort tiffany new york tiffany girls tiffany lamps womens history

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