I'm a stay-at-home mother of two. Despite the insanity of my life, I always find time to read...it is my outlet and my passion. I also love to cook and appreciate a good glass (or bottle) of wine. If you would like to contact me, my e-mail is email@example.com.
I have had a crazy good summer of reading. Better, I think, than any other summer, with five stars flying everywhere. Books that have just blown my mind. But if I think back through the summer, and my reading life in general, there are very few books that inspire a fervor, an obsession, over a topic. Like when Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" turned me loose on Medieval churches. Or when "The Devil and the White City" by Erik Larson plunged me into a fascination of Chicago architecture and the 1893 World's Fair. These experiences are almost magical. And now it seems I have discovered another such book in "Clara & Mr. Tiffany". The ironic thing was how this book generated no interest with me when it initially launched, and was "forced" upon me through the Heathrow Literary Society.
Synopsis: In turn-of-the-century New York, women were expected to get married, stay home, and have children. They weren't supposed to have jobs, have an opinion, or change the landscape of the art world. Enter Clara Driscoll, a widow with an attitude and a creative flair. As the manager of the women's department and lead designer for Louis Comfort Tiffany's world-renowned stained glass windows, Clara was a modern woman even by our standards. Clara yearned for the approval of her boss and recognition for her contributions to the art world. One would think that Clara had achieved her goals when she designed and produced the first of many stained-glass lamp shades, Tiffany's ultimate claim to fame. But maybe not.
This story is a testament to the life of a woman who was not allowed to marry if she wished to pursue her passion for stained glass. A woman who battled the labor unions filled with men who were intimidated by her department's expertise. A woman who longed for companionship but was unlucky in love. A woman who fought for her employees, and took an interest in their personal plights. A woman who was the center of the universe and role model at the boarding house where she lived, with her best friends being a group of gay artists. A woman who observed and was passionate about capturing the essence of nature. A woman whose undying loyalty was pledged to one creative, eccentric and unpredictable man.
My thoughts: I was completely consumed by this story of a woman who I consider my soul sister. Hell, I can't draw a straight line. But I've worked in a man's world and done more than a few battles in my day for the rights of my "kids" in my department. I really could identify with Clara, even though I knew my obstacles weren't even close to hers. I knew in my bones that this woman, as many women for centuries to come, was going to get screwed.
Clara was an avid letter writer, and this allowed Vreeland to base her story on fact with some poetic license added for flavor. And what a flavor it was. The players seemed so real and so DEAR. Oh, I loved them all so, every last one of them, even the uptight Tiffany number crunchers and the old-fashioned Tiffany women who weren't so keen on Clara's progressive views. Throw in some of the most fascinating political and social dynamics in US history (especially the Suffragette movement), and some world-class prose, and you have a home run.
It was serendipitous then, when I found this incredible book at Barnes and Noble for $7 (in the last bin a book resides before burning), and included the history of Louis Comfort Tiffany, beautiful color pictures of many of the windows, Clara's unique lamps, and mosaics created over the years. I found it highly interesting that Clara was only mentioned once (alas the screwing continues). According to this book, Clara was said to be the highest paid woman in America at a time when women earned on average 60% less then men. I found it terribly exciting to see Clara's lamps, described in detail in the book, come to life in these pictures. But the best was yet to come.
Thoughts from the Heathrow Literary Society: We had a small attendance for this particular meeting unfortunately, but of the five of us there, four of us loved this book. The disliker could not get through the book, but admitted to being distracted by life and feeling that perhaps the book was maybe a little too feminist for him.
We are blessed to live near Winter Park, home of the Morse Museum, which showcases the largest comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Heathrow Literary Society will be taking a tour of the museum sometime in the next month or so, and we are all excited to behold some of Clara's most beautiful creations. Stay tuned for a report on our field trip!