While Louis Comfort Tiffany was the aesthetic genius who oversaw and inspired his empire, it was a team of designers, artisans, and craftspeople who collaborated to conceptualize and design the windows, lamps, glass, and a vast array of luxury goods for which the company remains famous to this day. His many designers shared and expanded his aesthetic vision.
Recent scholarship has shed light on several of the true artists behind the iconic works made at the firm, with special attention given to a group of women working in the Women's Glass Cutting Department who came to be known as the "Tiffany Girls."
The Women's Glass Cutting Department
Though it is not clear precisely when the first women were hired as designers by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Agnes F. Northrop began working for Louis C. Tiffany & Co. in the mid-1880s, joining a select group of women working at Tiffany's builiding on Fourth Avenue under the direction of Ann Vanderlip. Clara Driscoll joined the group in 1888, later becoming the head of the Women's Glass Cutting Department when it was established in 1892, around the time Tiffany opened his larger factory complex in Corona, Queens. A series of period articles from the 1890s indicate that a large group of young women were employed by Tiffany to design cartoons for leaded glass windows and glass mosaics; at its peak, the department employed at least 30 women.
Their contributions to Louis Comfort Tiffany's design empire were noted in several of the guide books published to inform visitors attending the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where Tiffany won 54 medals for designs for leaded glass windows, lamps and more - including those by Clara Driscoll and Agnes Northrop.
"In stained glass and glass mosaics the most important work has been done by women. It will surprise many visitors to this exposition to see how much of the work done by large firms, such as the Tiffany Glass Company, is by women. This is a work that has not only its artistic, but also its commercial side, and it is the commercial side that, after all, attests its worth to women, since it demonstrates the value of their work as a livelihood, which is, after all, the important thing to women."
- Nancy Huston Banks, “Woman’s Building,” in The World’s Fair as Seen in One Hundred Days, by H.D. Northrop (Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., 1893), 322.
Clara Pierce Wolcott Driscoll (1861- 1944) became one of the most prolific designers working under Tiffany and is widely believed to be responsible for the creation of the leaded glass lamps.
An Ohio native trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Driscoll moved to New York City to begin her career in the decorative arts. She attended the newly established Metropolitan Museum of Art School before joining a group of women working within Tiffany's design empire in 1888. At the time, this group was responsible for preparing full-scale cartoons, copying working drawings, and selecting and cutting individual sections of glass to create Tiffany window and mosaic compositions. Clara prospered there, and became the director of the Women's Glass Cutting Department when it was established in 1892.
In 1897 Clara inaugurated new designs for the various objets de luxe, such as mosaic trinkets, small boxes, inkstands, clocks, and candlesticks, which would prominently feature the new types of glass being created at Tiffany Studios.
The most daring and innovative of all her new designs were the leaded glass lampshades. Although Tiffany and his designers had previously produced table lamps and bespoke wall sconces and ceiling fixtures that incorporated blown glass and pressed glass tiles in the 1880’s and early 1890s, it was not until Clara’s pictorial designs in leaded glass went into production around 1899 that the lamps for which Tiffany Studios is still revered today came into being.
Tiffany employed two separate departments for the design and production of Tiffany lamps: a men's department that made simple geometric shades of gridded, usually single-color glass, and the Women's Glass Cutting Department, which was responsible for floral shades (it was widely held belief in the 19th century that women had a greater sensitivity to nature and color).
The process for the creation of Tiffany Lamps involved the collaboration and cooperation of a number of different artists and departments at Tiffany Studios. Clara and the other prominent designers at Tiffany Studios, including Agnes Northrup, chose the motifs for the lamps on their own. They drew inspiration mostly from nature, frequently opting for floral designs, including the Wisteria, Daffodil, and Peony lamps, sometimes extending their motifs to capture designs inspired by fauna, as with the Dragonfly and Peacock lamps.
The women would make preliminary sketches in watercolor of their prospective designs. These designs were translated into a cartoon, which was sent to the factory where a mock-shade was created out of plaster onto which the women would sketch three sections of the designs to be filled in with watercolor pencils to mimic the effects of the glass. At this stage Louis Comfort Tiffany’s approval was necessary to continue with the design. If the design received his green light the women would have a wooden mold of the shade created designating each of the specific pieces of glass that would eventually make of the shade, numbering each individual piece of glass on a cartoon to correspond with the mold. These small patterns were then laid out on a flat piece of glass to select the desired color and effect. The glass would then be cut to fit the pattern and was sent with the wooden mold to the factory where each individually cut section would be fastened together with metal. The shade was then put in an electric bath and plated with copper at which point it was ready to be taken to the Tiffany Studios showroom, where it would be sold.
Tiffany Lamps were hugely popular at the turn of the century, and the company made sure to produce a wide variety of sizes, colors and designs to appeal to a variety of price points and interior styles.
FAVRILE POTTERY + ENAMELS
Tiffany Studios pottery was largely designed by a team of “Tiffany Girls,” including Alice Gouvy, Lillian Palmié, Edith Lautrup and others, and was produced in a small building at Tiffany’s complex in Corona, Queens.
Clara Driscoll enviously referred to the small pottery and enamel workshops as “Little Arcadia” - the women were known to exercise great artistic freedom under Tiffany’s direction, and the walls were plastered with delicate watercolor studies of the seed pods, flowers, and dried leaves that would go on to adorn or take form as examples of Favrile Pottery.