I’ve never been a big fan of Tiffany glass, but I’m glad I saw the fabulous collection of 100 Tiffany lamps on the fourth floor The NY Historical Society. It gave me an appreciation for the design, craft and technological innovation of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who developed his own opalescent sheet glass, which he manufactured in Corona, Queens. While most of the artisans and designers of Tiffany Studios were anonymous, this exhibit highlights the role of women designers, especially Clara Wolcott Driscoll, who not only managed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department (the “Tiffany Girls”) but designed many of the lampshades and mosaic bases. She was also paid the same as her male counterparts! One of the explanatory panels in the exhibit recounts how Tiffany started hiring women (many with art school training) as an experiment when the male glass cutters went on strike in 1892. It worked out well, so he continued employing women, believing that they were better at selecting colors, cutting the glass and wrapping it in copper foil. However, the mores of the day dictated that women stop working once they married, so there was constant turnover. Clara Driscoll left after 21 years when she married in 1909. I was impressed by the wide variety of designs – most taken from nature, some inspired by Japan and China. As you go through you’ll see that much care was also taken with the bases, which were designed separately. Here’s a small selection of what you’ll find:
There’s no designer attributed to this Lotus Pagoda Shade (and Mushroom Base), but you can clearly see the marrying of a “nature” and an “Eastern” theme.
Daffodils were one of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s favorite flowers.
The Cobweb Shade, designed by Clara Driscoll, has a mosaic base of narcissus flowers.
This Bookmark Shade 1906-10, is the only lamp known in this pattern, which pays homage to the15th and 16th century printers, whose marks are on the rondels. This colophon of the anchor and dolphin belonged to the Italian Renaissance printer Aldous Manutius.
Clara Driscoll probably designed this shade depicting peacock feathers; I especially liked the blue-green “eyes” and the gold and orange borders. (There’s also a Peacock base)
Up on the mezzanine level you’ll find not only more lamps and lampshades, but also glass blowing tools like these, used by Maurice Kelly in the early 1900’s.
This Bamboo Shade (1900-06, designer unknown) is the only lampshade that used curved glass.
This is a very small selection of the 100 lamps on display. Be sure to get up to see this, yes, illuminating exhibit at the NY Historical Society, 170 Central Park West and 77th Street.