Ten years ago, I was challenged by a friend to give a presentation about my 4th cousin, Clara Wolcott Driscoll, to a group of residents at an assisted living facility. At that time, I was a person who balked if I had to stand up in a group and say my name. Very self-conscious. Very easily intimidated by crowds of people I didn’t know. But I gave the talk … and forgot my glasses, so had to do it extemporaneously. Now a third of them fell asleep, and another third talked amongst themselves loudly, but a third of them found it interesting. And somehow I was asked to do this again at another location … and then another … and then another. At October 2017, I have given 95 presentations about Clara’s exciting life and accomplishments – the invitations are all unsolicited, by word of mouth, and they all are given by memory now without fear! I am stunned but not surprised. Clara is the draw.
Clara Driscoll’s life was fascinating to say the least, and I am honored to play the role of family cheerleader for her. She was raised humbly in rural Tallmadge, Ohio and Clara was my great-grandmother’s cousin; they were a close-knit family, it appears. My family’s 1849 federal farmhouse was long ago torn down to make way for a shopping center. Clara’s colonial home, however, begun in 1817, still sits high on a hill, proud, well-kept, waiting for the rustle of skirts once again, the welcoming aromas of home-cooked meals, the flurry of inhabitants’ activities, and the warmth of the embers in the fireplaces. Those walls could indeed tell stories… and new stories should be added to the unseen library of memories! (UPDATE: It was just sold again in the winter of 2015 to a family who will hopefully bring life back into this wonderful dwelling.)
In her late 20s, Clara went off to the big New York City for further education and was subsequently hired by Louis Comfort Tiffany, initially as a mosaicist. She spent almost twenty years working for Mr. Tiffany, between her marriages and engagement, and eventually designed 125 beautiful lamps that bear his company’s name and other works of art: pottery, jewelry, miscellaneous glass items. She received little recognition for what she did except within the workplace. Clara grew the workforce from 3 to 35 women at the Tiffany Studios, oversaw the day-to-day functions, met with the board of directors, and, all the while, came up with breath-taking designs. She was a phenomenon of her time.
I didn’t even learn I was a Wolcott until I was 45 years old. My family never talked about any of their ancestors. But, in 1995 my mother’s cousin, Elizabeth Jones Yeargin, summarized 1,163 round-robin letters written by and between Clara’s family which began with her grandmother in 1853 and ended with Clara’s death in 1944. Elizabeth shared her summary with family members who were interested – and not all of them were. I, however, was fascinated and overcome with joy that the gorgeous lamps I had always loved were created by a member of my family!
It has been an interesting ride for me these past nine years and it just doesn’t seem to be lessening. I hope the reader takes the time to get to know Clara through the three books which have been written about her as the excitement about her life continues. I have no financial interest in what has been written – just experience sheer delight in telling highlights of Clara’s story, when asked, and whetting my audiences’ appetite to learn more. Finally, Clara!
- Linda D. Alexander
See the below Akron Beacon Journal article link from March 2014 -
This article was subsequently picked up by a news service and has gone around the world!
And a blog and New York Times article about the upcoming exhibit at the New York Historical Society to open April 29 2017. Curator, Margi Hofer, says “Clara will be right in the middle of it.” Indeed, she will – I loaned the NYHS a photograph of Clara that will be wallpapered on a wall of the pavilion of 100 original lamps of her design. And I’ve been invited to the pre-opening reception on 4/28.
Exhibit at the NYHS which opened 4/17 - http://4thfloor.nyhistory.org/explore/
Clara and Mr. Tiffany
- Susan Vreeland
NEW LIGHT ON TIFFANY - CLARA DRISCOLL AND THE TIFFANY GIRLS
– Gray, Hofer, Eidelberg
Noon at Tiffany’S
– Echo Heron