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The Rediscovered Artistry of Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls

a stained glass desk lamp with blue, purple, green, and yellow colors designed to look like a wisteria tree
Artist: Clara Driscoll, Maker: Tiffany Studios, Wisteria table lamp, ca. 1905-1906, leaded glass and bronze, 27 in. high, 18 in. shade diameter, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, Gift of the Benedict Silverman Collection, 2021.16.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is closed today, Monday, January 30 due to inclement weather. Any programs, tours, lectures or classes will not be held. If you are a ticket holder for a tour or an event today, we’ll contact you about rescheduling.

While Tiffany lamps are well-known today, the contribution of women designers and workers has only recently been recognized. Many women, including Clara Driscoll (1861-1944) played a crucial role in the design and creation of Tiffany Studios’ masterpieces, including this iconic Wisteria table lamp, now part of the Crystal Bridges collection. For many years, Driscoll was the head of the Women’s Glass Cutting Department. In addition to designing lamps and lampshades, she managed a large department of young women (a staff of 35 in the early 1900s), known as the “Tiffany Girls.” This group of gifted artisans specialized in selecting and cutting glass for windows, shades, and mosaics. They made vital, although almost anonymous, contributions to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s most famous designs. 

 

Born Clara Pierce Wolcott in Tallmadge, Ohio, Driscoll was trained at Cleveland’s design school (now Cleveland Institute of Arts), and by 1888, moved to New York to study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art School. In New York, she quickly found work at Tiffany Glass Company. Clara Driscoll worked for Tiffany for 20 years. Driscoll won a bronze medal at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair for her dragonfly lamp design and designed and oversaw production of countless more works. When the Wisteria table lamp was produced in 1905-1906, it was one of the most expensive and most popular lamps sold by Tiffany Studios at the time.

 

an old photograph of a group of women posing together
The Tiffany Girls. Clara Driscoll is on the far left. Courtesy, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, FL.

Driscoll’s contributions to the designs at Tiffany Studios went largely unknown for almost a century. The records of Tiffany Glass Company were lost when the studio closed in the 1930s, and it was not until art historians Martin Eidelberg and Nina Gray found Driscoll’s correspondence that her impact and designs were confirmed. Driscoll’s letters include anecdotes and stories about the workshop and outline the process for designing and making the lampshades.

 

Written by Mindy N. Besaw, director of fellowships, research, and university partnerships and curator, American art.