By Kelley Carlson
It took about a century for the world to discover that Clara Driscoll was the master designer behind the stained leaded glass lamps produced by Tiffany Studios.
But now it’s her time to shine.
Driscoll — and her collaboration with Louis Comfort Tiffany — is the focus of Susan Vreeland’s latest book, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” which will be discussed in detail at a special event for Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild members.
Vreeland will give a PowerPoint presentation and conduct a question-and-answer session from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on April 26 at the Rancho Santa Fe Library, 17040 Avenida de Acacias. The $25 cost also includes a light brunch catered by Keely Barrera and a signed copy of the book.
“Clara and Mr. Tiffany” marks a slightly different departure from the author’s six previous historical fiction novels, most of which focused on painters.
“This is my foray into another art form,” said the local resident, one that was new to her, but intriguing.
“The Tiffany lamp is an icon of American history — certainly New York history,” she added.
While in New York for the launch of her book “Luncheon of the Boating Party” in May 2007, Vreeland visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibition that re-created the fountain court of Tiffany’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. Fascinated by the leaded-glass windows, she made a point to visit an exhibition at the New York Historical Society that displayed lamps created by Driscoll and some letters she wrote to her family in Tallmadge, Ohio, about her life working for Tiffany Studios.
The wheels started turning in Vreeland’s mind, as she read through the exhibition’s 200-page catalog, “A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls.”
To ultimately decide whether she would tackle the subject as a book, Vreeland traveled to the Kent State University Library in Ohio, and later to the Queens Historical Society in New York, to peruse thousands of Driscoll’s letters.
Had it not been for Driscoll’s correspondence, her role as head designer of the Tiffany floral-shaded lamps may never have been known, since Louis C. Tiffany never publicly acknowledged her or the team of women she led. The records for Tiffany Studios were lost after it closed in the early 1930s.
“Thank goodness for her Victorian zest for letter writing!” Vreeland said.
“I realized she was a strong, really vibrant woman, talented ... a dynamic leader, who was pretty forward-thinking,” the award-winning author added.
Vreeland proceeded to interview a number of people about Tiffany, who was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the renowned jewelry and silverware company Tiffany & Co. Her sources included several museum curators and Arlie Sulka, owner and managing director of the Lillian Nassau Gallery, the first place to exhibit the Tiffany lamps after the studios went out of business.
After six months of research, and an additional three years of writing and editing, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany” was finally published in 2011. The paperback edition was released on March 20, 2012, and in April, the book became Vreeland’s fourth New York Times best seller.
Other novels by Vreeland include “Life Studies,” “Girl in Hyacinth Blue,” “The Forest Lover” and “The Passion of Artemisia.” Her first book, “What Love Sees” — a true story of a blind couple who raised four children on a ranch in Ramona -— has been out of print for more than 20 years, but was recently brought back as an eBook.
Vreeland — who taught high school English in San Diego for 30 years before her retirement in 2000 — particularly enjoys writing about art.
“Through art and literature, we can step into other lives, other cultures, other time periods,” Vreeland said. “Each time, it’s a small step up in the elevation of mankind.”
Following suit, she is at work on a new novel titled “Lisette’s List,” which takes place before, during and after World War II in the south of France and Paris. Without giving too much away, Vreeland revealed that it focuses on the fates of paintings by Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne that were collected by a frame maker. In addition, the frame maker’s grandson’s wife, Lisette, acquires a Marc Chagall painting.
For more information about Vreeland, go to www.svreeland.com.
While these events are for RSF Library Guild members only, it is easy to become a member of the Library Guild. Go to www.rsflibraryguild.org, call (858) 756-4780, or press “like” on Facebook and follow the link.
The RSF Library Guild Author Talks are generously sponsored by Don Johnson, Wells Fargo Advisors.