Book Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany

This week I read Clara and Mr. Tiffany written by Susan Vreeland.  The book is a historical fiction based on the life of Clara Driscoll who was a glass designer for Louis Comfort Tiffany. In the book, we follow Clara’s career at Tiffany studios, her design inspiration, and challenges being a working woman at the turn of the century.

The author was drawn to Clara after her handwritten letters from the era where discovered. An exhibition in New York followed, exposing the public to the design contributions brought by Clara and other women working in the Tiffany Studios.

This book is alright. The overarching theme is recognizing Clara’s contribution to glass design, which is a fantastic story. The author describes the designs and the art glass process beautifully. This is truly the best aspect of the book. The characters are well developed and the challenges they face are balanced. 

However, despite some nicely placed historical references, I didn’t feel transported to the era. Something about the dialog or the description of the environment just didn’t transport me. 

One issue I have is that the book repeatedly discussed Clara’s fight for public recognition for her designs. It's voiced as an injustice but this really isn't fair to those who didn't credit her at the time. In U.S. copyright law her designs would belong to her employer and fall under "work for hire".  If she were an independent contractor only working on a project by project basis this may be different but being she was a full-time employee she was really doing a job for her employer. To be fair that aspect of copyright law didn’t go into effect until well after she worked with Tiffany and it doesn't diminish her skills and contributions. I just think it's important to understand how these systems work. It'd be a shame for readers to consider the Tiffany management or contemporary equivalents as unjust for not giving credit to employee designers when it falls within the intellectual property law. O.k. with that said, haha

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. Because it’s historical fiction it should have broad appeal. Those who like non-fiction will enjoy the historical references and glass production details. Readers who love fiction will enjoy the characters and the challenges they face.