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February Program: “Hidden Gem – CWRU Professor Renee Sentilles to Share Stories Behind Clara Driscoll & the Women of Tiffany Studios”
Tiffany lamps and decorative objects, known for their classic floral design and subtle glow, became a sensation in the art world and society because of Clevelander Clara Wolcott Driscoll. On Thursday, February 10, Case Western Reserve Professor Renee Sentilles will share stories of Driscoll, a luminescent figure in American women’s history. The free program, sponsored by the Hudson Heritage Association (HHA), is open to all at 7:30 p.m. at the Barlow Community Center.
Born in Tallmadge in 1861, Wolcott attended Cleveland Central High School and the Western Reserve School of Design for Women (now known as the Cleveland Institute of Art). In 1888, she moved to New York City to study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s School and began her career with Louis Comfort (L.C.) Tiffany. While design credit for the beautiful, hand-crafted Tiffany products was traditionally given to L.C., in fact, Driscoll was pivotal in their creation.
Driscoll also was a savvy manager, negotiator, and leader. Women who worked at Tiffany were not unionized (male employees were) and Driscoll led her women coworkers, creating many of the company’s most prestigious commissions for stained glass windows and mosaics.
“She was an incredible designer and manager in her 30s and 40s, running a huge shop of women, representing a whole cadre of women,” Sentilles said. “In some ways, it was the age of the new woman, featuring amazing characters who weren’t really known.”
Sentilles noted Driscoll’s influence on the New York social scene in the late 1800s, taking in plays and parties with fellow employees dubbed the “Tiffany Girls.”
Driscoll’s writing also illuminated the full Tiffany story, Sentilles said. “Driscoll and her sisters and her mother wrote letters to each other and kept them. Sometimes they would even make copies of their letters on carbon.” But Sentilles said it wasn’t until 2009 when a relative of Driscoll’s turned over the letters to art historian Martin Edelberg that hidden stories and contributions were revealed in a book titled, “A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls,” authored by Edelberg, Nina Gray and Margaret K. Hofer.
Thursday’s presentation by Sentilles promises to reveal that, as is often the case, behind every great woman is a great woman. Sentilles is a modern match for contributions to the understanding of women in her role at Case Western Reserve as the Henry Eldridge Bourne Professor of History. She also is the author of two books, “Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity,” and “American Tomboys, 1850-1915.” Her latest project is a book and website called “In Her Shoes: Getting to the Sole of American Women’s History,” which uses shoes as an entry point into multicultural women’s history.
While Sentilles has traveled to many cities and every state, she loves Cleveland for its art and history, and how it drew her to the place that is now her home.
“In college I thought I would be an artist and a writer, and I majored in American studies, studying American culture, looking at art and literature and history. When it came to art, all the major American works are in the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I wanted to come to Cleveland so much.”
Twenty years later, she continues to live, work and study our regional and cultural landscape, and the contributions of women here and everywhere who break glass ceilings in art, industry, education and life.