Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Breaking up glass into small shapes, harmonizing colors, choosing textures, and setting them right to make something beautiful was healing. It was more than the pleasure of assembly that made it so. It was letting the colors sing, being open to their song.”

Clara & Mr. Tiffany, Susan Vreeland (p 131)

Susan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany is available in stores today and it is 432 pages.  I was sent an advanced reader copy of the book from Random House for review. I originally fell in love with Vreeland’s writing in her novel, Luncheon of the Boating Party. Her particular blend of fiction, history, and art instruction make for inspiring, thought-provoking text as richly layered as the colors on Renoir’s canvas or the glass  in Tiffany’s lamps. Her literary talents are manifold, but among them are the artful weaving of historical data within the framework of the fiction, and the ability to teach art within her text.

The inspiration for Clara and Mr. Tiffany came from a cache of letters discovered in 2005 that revealed a woman named Clara Driscoll had actually designed the gorgeous lamps for which Louis Comfort Tiffany was famous, and that she headed a department of skilled women artists who invented and created some of the most breathtaking and intricate glass windows, panels, and lamps for which he was famous.  The novel follows Clara as she tries to reconcile her work and love life over and over again, since Mr. Tiffany did not allow his female workers to marry. From the exhilaration of the creative process, to the tenderness of friendship, to the joys and heartbreaks of love, Clara’s story shows the challenges of women’s suffrage at the turn of the century and the complexities of human relationships.

I often have difficulty holding a large cast of characters in my head at one time but within the first few chapters of Clara and Mr. Tiffany,  I realized another of Vreeland’s specialties is drawing her characters vividly enough to animate them at first meeting, thus firmly embedding them in the reader’s awareness.  Each character is so unique and layered that it’s obvious how much time Vreeland spent developing them.

In all honesty, my limited exposure to Tiffany glass before reading the novel left me feeling as if the colors were too bold for traditional interior design. After reading this book and now understanding the meticulous, precise, skilled process involved in their creation, I’ll never again look at artistic glass or jewels with the same eyes.

Vreeland once again astounds with her attention to detail and scope of textual theme.  If you are an artist, writer, or lover of the creative process, you will very much enjoy Clara and Mr. Tiffany.



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