Archives For Louis Comfort Tiffany

vreeland_bookclub_groupThe Tiffany Girls faced their toughest critic since the old master himself during a recent twilight tour at the Driehaus Museum. Susan Vreeland, author of the acclaimed bestselling novel, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, was the featured speaker at the Driehaus Winter Book Club this March. She also gave two lectures at the museum on the Women’s Department at Tiffany Studios. Vreeland provided some valuable insights as she accompanied “Clara Driscoll” and “Agnes Northrop” on a historic reenactment through their temporary studio and showroom in the Nickerson Mansion.


Set in 1899, Clara and Agnes are preparing to enter their designs in the 1900 Exposition Universalle in Paris. Guests on the tour are invited to take roles as potential customers. Ms. Vreeland was handed the part of an English aristocrat and played it rather convincingly. She demanded answers about the techniques used to create the myriad effects associated with the fabrication of Tiffany lamps. Vreeland’s visit to Chicago was timed to coincide with Women’s History Month as well as to tour the exhibition: Louis Comfort Tiffany, Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. In her novel, Vreeland recreates the fin de siecle with its tempestuous labor struggles and the nascent women’s rights movement. Her book describes the strivings of young women artists who found gainful employment in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s New York studios alongside their grudging male counterparts.

“Remember to emphasize that this was a very diverse group of women,” Vreeland advised. “Some of the workers had formal art training while others who showed a certain predilection for the tasks had to be instructed in the selection and cutting of the glass by Clara herself.” “There were many languages spoken and the women represented a range of the immigrant population.”

Susan Vreeland with the "Tiffany Girls"

Susan Vreeland with the “Tiffany Girls”

She found the two actresses who portrayed Clara and Agnes to be both charming and very knowledgeable about their respective roles.

Ms. Vreeland read a portion of her novel in Roland Nickerson’s bedroom, pausing at Driscoll’s Wisteria Lamp to deliver a message on beauty and design. Later in an impromptu question and answer session, she fielded queries about her research, writing methods and the plot of her newest novel, Lisette’s List to the group.

“I write on a lap top,” she said. “Multiple drafts.”

Book signing following the group discussion

Book signing following the group discussion

Many questions centered on the betrothal and subsequent disappearance of Clara Driscoll’s second fiancé, social reformer, Edwin Waldo. In the book, the couple travels to Lake Geneva to mark their engagement. Although seemingly happy, Edwin suddenly and mysteriously disappears. He would resurface many years later without explanation. Vreeland speculated that he might have had some form of mental illness. Apparently he would vanish again after relocating to California. But she emphasized his sincere desire to help elevate the status of workers. Clara Driscoll was deeply influenced by his passion for reform. Vreeland suggests that Driscoll adopted some of Waldo’s methods when she marched her female employees arm in arm to storm a picket set up by the Glass Cutter’s Union.

When asked about the details of Edwin and Clara’s relationship, Vreeland replied that this is where researchers hit a wall. She was forced to speculate on the events their honeymoon trip blending what little information there was available with the fiction writer’s art.


What was her favorite piece in the Driehaus exhibit? She loves the Peony Lamp which is on display in Samuel Nickerson’s bedroom.

tiffanygirls_deskExperience the Tiffany Girls Tour

  • Saturdays and Sundays in March. at 4 p.m.
  • First and Third Tuesdays in April, May, and June at 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays beginning June 25th at 5:30 p.m.

Adults $18; Youth (10-17 years) $8

Ticket includes Museum general admission.


Photo credit: Marcin Cymmer


Happy 166th Birthday to Louis Comfort Tiffany born February 18, 1848.

One wonders what gift would make this artist/impresario smile? In the years following his death in 1933, many of his iconic works were relegated to attics or dustbins. But following a renaissance of appreciation, Tiffany’s name and output are once again secure in the annals of art history.

So exactly how might Mr. Tiffany celebrate today? There are some hints in the fabulous, over the top fetes that became a part of his legacy. On the occasion of his 68th birthday in 1916, Tiffany threw a lavish party at his Madison Avenue studios in New York City complete with a masque in pantomime entitled The Quest for Beauty . A woman clad in white robes emerged onto the darkened stage and told the hushed spectators they would see “Genius in the form of an artist hunting for Beauty”. The actors then mimed a caveman drawing inspiration from a dancing flame of a fire.

Later after a toast by J. Alden Weir, president of the Academy of Design, Tiffany, in a speech to the 300 assembled celebrants, summed up the quest that was his lifelong ambition:

If I may be forgiven a word about my own work, I would merely say that I have always striven to fix beauty in wood or stone or glass or pottery, in oil or watercolor by using whatever seemed fittest for the expression of beauty; that has been my creed and I see no reason to change it. It seems as if the artists who place all their energies on technique have nothing left over for the more important matter — the pursuit of beauty.

Harper's Bazar, April, 1916

Harper’s Bazar, April, 1916

But that was just one of the many parties Tiffany threw in the cavernous space that was his studio and showroom. He had many theatrical events there in rooms heated by four huge fireplaces and lit with panels of vividly colored glass. It was the perfect artist’s loft to wow awestruck guests. Perhaps Tiffany’s most spectacular event was The Egyptian Fete of February 4, 1913. Invitations in hieroglyphs were sent written on papyrus scrolls. Four hundred attendees, attired in pre-approved period costumes including Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Dorothy Roosevelt and the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert de Forest stepped into “Alexandria” to witness a romantic encounter between Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Tiffany’s daughter Dorothy played one of the Queen’s attendants. One highlight was a suggestive dance performed by Ruth St. Denis who made a spectacular entrance unfurled from an Persian carpet. Catered by Delmonico’s restaurant, there was enough champagne to fuel some risqué behavior in the form of a rather uninhibited Turkey Trot. All of this sybaritic splendor was presided over by the artist himself garbed as an Eastern potentate.

Described in a gushing review by the New York Times, the late night bash was “one amazing riot of color” and “it eclipsed any fancy dress function ever presented in New York“. Even the Pinkerton security force wore Oriental disguise as they stood in silent watch over the treasures in the event space.

So perhaps today’s celebration although heartfelt might be a bit more restrained? How about a multi-layered cake with gloriously colored fondant stained glass panels and jewel-like flowers wrapped in iridescent Favrile spun sugar and lit with 166 candles? To quote the master: “I want to protest that beauty can be found in any material given the proper channel.” 

Many happy returns Louis Comfort Tiffany!


To read the article in the April 1916 issue of Harper’s Bazar click here.


Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, Elizabeth Hutchinson, ed. (Metropolitan Museum of Art,  2006)
The International Studio, Volumes 57-58,  John Lane Company, 1915
Egyptian Fete A Fine Spectacle NYT February 5, 1913
(Art-The Quest for Beauty , An Address by Louis C. Tiffany) Art and Life, Volume 7, Issue 6 Author’s Bureau., 1916
 Behind Glass: A Biography of Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham By Michael John Burlingham  pp 130-131


The Driehaus Museum is excited to introduce its first Book Club series.  We begin the series with Sally Sexton Kalmbach’s book Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago. The Jewel of the Gold Coast book clubs take place on January 30th and February 5th.  Here is a brief selection from the book, as well as a conversation with Anna Wolff, Driehaus Museum Educator.


An Excerpt from The Jewel of the Gold Coast

On a warm day in late July of 1870, Bertha Honore married Potter Palmer at her parents’ fashionable limestone home at 157 Michigan Avenue, across the street from today’s site of the Art Institute of Chicago. The tree-lined residential street was filled with carriages depositing the forty relatives and close friends who attended the wedding ceremony. At 6 p.m. a pastor from the First Christian Church performed the ceremony. A wedding supper for seven hundred followed the service, catered by Kinsley’s, one of the most celebrated restaurants of the day. Noted for its oysters shipped from the East Coast, Kinsley’s was located on Washington Street between Dearborn and State, not far from the Honore home.

The petite 5’5″ dark-eyed woman of 21 was dressed in a gown of white satin and rose-point lace designed by Charles Frederick Worth, a designer who dominated Parisian fashion in the later half of the nineteenth century. Orange blossoms were arranged in her brown hair. Her small waist was encircled by a corset, an item of clothing in vogue throughout most of her life.

Potter Palmer was a happy man. At the age of forty-four, he was the most eligible bachelor in Chicago. He had illustrated his business acumen by amassing millions, traveled extensively in Europe, sown his wild oats, and now he was marrying the intelligent and graceful woman who had captured his attention eight years previously.

Her wedding present was the new Palmer House Hotel, valued at $3,500,000, and just being completed at the time of their marriage.

After the ceremony, the newly married couple departed for Europe, but Paris was not part of the itinerary because of the Franco-Prussian war raging in France. This was Bertha’s first journey to Europe, but her introduction to Paris and the Impressionists lay in the future.


What do you hope participants will get out of joining in the discussion?

Anna Wolff:  I see the book club as a relaxed way for our guests and members to further engage topics related to the museum.  We’ll be discussing Gilded Age fiction, biographies, and history with the authors and will expound upon the book from a literary perspective as well as discuss the larger historical context of its content.  Our Book Club is a great way for patrons to get to know each other better in an informal setting over shared interests.

How did you decide which books would be used for the first book club?

Clara_and_Mr_TiffanyWolff:  March’s Book Club will feature Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.  This was a natural fit for us since Ms. Vreeland will speak in an informal lecture earlier that week.  With our current exhibition “Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection” we chose a book that celebrates that time period.

People are always very interested in Bertha Palmer. Since the book, The Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago, sells well in our Museum Store we knew many visitors and members would be interested in discussing the book and meeting its author in an intimate setting. For the winter series we found it very fitting to have one historic fictional novel and one more rooted in fact.

The first book featured is Jewel of the Gold Coast by Sally Kalmbach. What has it been like working with her on this new project?

Wolff:  Sally is a wealth of knowledge that is always eager to share information.  She will be bringing historic documents, images, and illustrations to further explain who Bertha Palmer was.

What did you find most interesting when reading The Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago?

Wolff:  I found it particularly interesting to learn about Mrs. Palmer’s life as an art collector.  I gained an understanding of who she actually was as opposed to her legacy as an art collector.  The process of her becoming an art collector is far different than I ever expected.

What’s next…what are some books you would like to include in future book clubs?

Wolff:  I would love to feature Devil in the White City or Death in the Haymarket both have a strong connection to Chicago history and are fascinating reads.



window sketch_feature

Cyrus H. McCormick was many things. A native Virginian who became one of Chicago’s great industrialists, he was also a famous penny-pincher, generous philanthropist, stolid Presbyterian, and  patent hound. He moved to Chicago in 1847, where he set up the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company factory and prospered.

His oldest son, Cyrus Hall McCormick II, was born on May 16, 1859 and became President of the McCormick Harvesting and Machine Company begininng in 1884.  Word is that Cyrus took little leisure time, but he did manage to begin courting Harriet Bradley Hammond, who had moved from Massachusetts to Chicago in 1875, at the age of 12. The pair got away to Monterey, California, to marry in 1889 at St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea, then spent a few weeks honeymooning in Hawaii and the rest of the summer in Europe.

Harriet Bradley Hammond

Harriet Bradley Hammond

They were together in Chicago until Harriet died in January of 1921. She was buried in Graceland, and after the services Cyrus contacted Tiffany Studios, by then a well-known and established company for private commissions. He requested an ecclesiastical window to be designed in her honor, and Tiffany—just a year away from retirement—signed off on this Foxglove design.

window sketch

Designs for McCormick Windows – Watercolor Sketch

The resulting windows, completed in 1922, Cyrus donated to St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea. They survive there today in memory of this Chicago titan’s first love.



As guests explore the galleries, they have the unique opportunity to experience the genius of this Gilded Age artist and designer within the immersive interiors of a magnificent historic home in Chicago.

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Learn more about the inner workings of Tiffany Studios with this landscape study by Agnes Northrop, one of the “Tiffany Girls.”

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This fanciful blown-glass work by Tiffany Studios always stirs the curiosity of visitors to the Reception Room.

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Our first blog post dedicated to the Museum’s first exhibition! Featuring a Q&A with the exhibition curator, David A. Hanks.

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Did you know all Driehaus Museum members get Buy One, Get One Free Walking Tours from the Chicago Architecture Foundation? Here are a few of our recommendations for which tours to check out in the coming months.

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After his well-received lectures on Gilded Age taste at the Driehaus Museum, Ulysses Grant Dietz agreed to a follow-up chat. Read on for the conversation.

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