The Fringe of Living Glory: Tiffany's Flowering Vines
After creating the design for the Wisteria lamp (lot 326), Clara Driscoll went on to design related shades with other floral species but employing the same deep canopy shape as the Wisteria. These new designs included the Trumpet Creeper (lot 327) and Grape, both vines like the Wisteria, and Apple Blossom. It is revealing that on Tiffany Studios’ comprehensive 1906 Price List, the Trumpet Creeper, Grape, and Apple Blossom shades were listed with the notation “Wistaria Block.” In other words, they were formed on the same wooden forms that had been introduced for the Wisteria, thus reasserting the primacy of that model.
Since the discovery of Driscoll’s correspondence with her family, it has become fashionable to credit her alone with many of the lamp designs from Tiffany Studios, not taking into account the contribution of Tiffany himself. It was, after all, his personal credo that decorative designs should be based on natural forms. As he matured he increasingly disdained the traditional Western emphasis on Greco-Roman art and instead turned to Nature. “Nature is always right,” he proclaimed, “Nature is always beautiful.” Thus when Driscoll had the idea of fashioning a lamp shade that mimicked the hanging panicles of wisteria, and a lamp base that echoed its gnarled vine, she did so within an environment that welcomed such tributes to nature.
When Tiffany was describing his home and gardens at Laurelton Halls, he expressed his admiration for the vines that grew on the buildings:
“The creepers frame the openings, giving a charm and graceful unity to everything. They are great travellers, verily—tramps. They go underground, across door-heads, over cornices, stopping up gutters, filling odd corners, doing no end of mischief … What harmonizers! What decorative artists! …Can architectural embellishment, pediment or cornice surpass the fringe of living glory presented by the creepers? Always in style, always exempt from even the dictation of Dame Fashion! Always mellowing, softening, harmonizing whithersoever they go…”
Although these words did not appear in print until 1906, Tiffany’s admiration for vines and their ability to soften architectural forms was registered much earlier, as in the 1880s in a set of transom windows that adorned a bay window in his Manhattan mansion. These transoms, imitating flowering wisteria vines, were probably known to Clara Driscoll who on occasion visited his home. In fact, it could even be that she and her staff executed them. The more important point, however, is that such windows and lamp designs with their “fringe of living glory” represent an idea that was common to Tiffany and his staff. The Wisteria and Trumpet Creeper lamps presented here (lots 23 and 24) remind us that Tiffany was both an inspired artist and horticulturist, and that Clara Driscoll, his capable lieutenant, understood how to translate his vision into reality.
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