Clara Driscoll’s Path to Tiffany Lamps

Clara Driscoll’s letters were “discovered,” by scholars in 2005 and the resulting book, A New Light on Tiffany, illuminates the career and life of this previously little known middle manager-and on Tiffany as well. The woman who designed most of the Tiffany lamps was well trained in two art schools before taking a position with the company, and would go on to have a career that covered two decades. Yet the path to Tiffany lamps took many unexpected turns.

In 1888 Clara was hired by the Tiffany Glass Company. This was formerly known as Louis C. Tiffany and Associated Artists, yet later known as Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, and finally as Tiffany Studios-the last two being makers of Tiffany lamps. The sometimes confusing course of organizational structure was matched by Clara Driscoll’s own topsy-turvy personal and professional road.

Her career track was marked by quick and sometimes meteoric rises. She designed Tiffany lamps at a prolific rate. Her department grew 600 percent in two years. She even managed her department smoothly despite threats by the men’s union to shut her down. Her personal life was just as eventful due to an interesting and (for us) historical bug-a-boo: Women employees at the turn of the century had to be either single or widowed. Given Clara’s history in this area, Tiffany lamps seem almost providential!

Clara seemed as intent on changing her calling card as Tiffany was his. Her flourishing career at Tiffany Glass, Tiffany Glass and Decorating, and Tiffany Studios, was interrupted by three separate forays into marriage. These were at times as colorful as the Tiffany lamps she designed during the day-though they were accomplished with varying degrees of success.

After only a year and a half at the company, the future designer of Tiffany lamps was married to a man thirty years her senior with the understanding that he was well off. He was neither well off, nor healthy and died two years later! Clara returned, started the women’s Glass Cutting Department later known as the “Tiffany Girls.” Within two years the department of six grew to thirty-five, and flourished in the production of stained glass windows.

Less than five years into her second stint with the company, Clara became engaged to a man named Edwin Waldo. They celebrated with a wedding trip; traveled through several states and ended up in Lake Geneva Wisconsin where Waldo fell ill and disappeared! Clara immediately went to New York, got her job back and within a few months had conceived the idea for the first documented glass mosaic Tiffany lamp.

So the paths finally converged for Clara and Tiffany, making possible the crowning achievement of their careers. Tiffany lamps of leaded glass design and floral motif, are their brightest legacy. Clara’s final employment lasted twelve years, after which she married a long time friend, six years her junior for the next thirty-five years.