Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland takes place around the turn of the 20th century in New York City. Clara Driscoll is head of the women’s department in the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, known for his stained glass. The book covers about fifteen years, and therefore, covers a lot of history. The issue of labor unions and women’s right to work is raised several times. Immigration and the living condition of immigrants is a foremost issue for awhile. Clara even witnesses the very first drop of the Times Square New Year’s ball! The reader also learns about the complicated process of making stained glass and the innovative techniques that Tiffany developed in this area. Through it all, we learn much about Clara Driscoll, Agnes Northrup, and the rise and fall of Louis Comfort Tiffany – all of whom were real people. It is the best of historical fiction: a novel that puts you in the time period and allows you to live there for a little while.
While reading this book (or rather, while listening to it; this was my first experience with an audiobook, which is a topic for another time), I was able to visit the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows on Navy Pier in Chicago. This museum houses examples of stained glass from all time periods, but has a couple of displays of Tiffany stained glass windows. Compared to the rest, it’s easy to see why Tiffany stayed at the front of his field through his many innovations. Seeing these windows in person helped the story to come alive even more. I’ve included some of my pictures below, so you can also enjoy these beautiful windows!