Louis C. Tiffany was enamored with creeping vines and they played a major role in the landscaping of his two Long Island mansions, The Briars and Laurelton Hall. It was only natural, therefore, that one of the earliest leaded glass lamps created by Tiffany Studios was the Trumpet Creeper. First made around 1903, the shape of the Trumpet Creeper shade mimics that of the Wisteria and Grape table lamps which were introduced about the same time. All three models also have a top comprised of cast open bronzework. Unlike the other two, however, the Trumpet Creeper features additional thick leading, replicating vines, that descends almost to the irregular lower border.
The vine (Campsis radicans
) is practically tropical in its lushness and, in the example offered here, Tiffany Studios portrayed the plant in all of its radiant grandeur. In examining the shade, it is sometimes easy to overlook the superior aesthetics of the women responsible for selecting the actual glass. The glasshouse produced flat glass in an almost infinite number of colors, color combinations and textures, a necessity for their leaded glass window business. Each glass selector was required to have not only an instinctual grasp of advanced color theory, it was also essential that she had the patience to find the perfect sheet or section of glass that was stored among the hundreds of racks and bins located at the factory.
Louis C. Tiffany, faced by a strike of his workmen in December 1892, gambled on his belief that women, after receiving the proper artistic training that only he could provide, “possess a more refined appreciation of the subtle differences between tone and tone and at the same time greater taste in their combination.” The shade presented here gloriously validates Tiffany’s prescience. The large open trumpet-shaped blossoms, in various stages of growth, are dominant and are depicted in rich shades of opalescent red, dark apricot and peach. The buds and closed blossoms are of lighter matching tones as well as in orange and amber-streaked yellow. Some of the glass comprising the flowers has a rippled texture that adds to the three-dimensionality of the buds and blossoms. The verdant leafage, pendant from the descending vines, is almost as striking in its wondrous variety of white- and yellow-tinged greens. All this on a truly magnificent background of opalescent and transparent glass that gradates from rich ultramarine and purple at the upper portion to violet and finally to amethyst-streaked clear glass near the lower border.
This shade, from a technical standpoint, was probably easier to make than the Wisteria because of the larger pieces of glass employed. The glass selection for this Trumpet Creeper, however, took considerably longer as perfectly coordinating the broader range of colors demanded a far greater effort. The present example is magnificent in its superb painterly interpretation of one of Tiffany’s favorite plants portrayed as dusk approaches. It is undeniably the finest example of the model known to exist. Most certainly designed and created by a senior member of the firm's Women’s Glass Cutting Department, this Trumpet Creeper exemplifies the highest artistic achievements of Tiffany's lamp production.
[ESSAY BETWEEN TRUMPET CREEPER + WISTERIA]
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.