Behind The Scenes

The Tiffany Girls and the Bomb-Sniffing Dog

Cobweb shade on Narcissus mosaic base, designed by Clara Driscoll pre-1902 20 in. diam. New-York Historical Society Gift of Dr. Egon Neustadt, N84.128.

Could Tiffany lamps be a national security threat? That’s what seemed to be the case when transporting A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls home to America from Germany. “The bomb sniffing dogs alerted on one of the crates,” said co-curator Margaret K. Hofer. “There a big ruckus and the crates had to be opened. I learned subsequently that they used a lot of uranium to make yellow glass, and the dog would have been picking up on the uranium.” At least we can sleep soundly knowing those dogs are trained well enough to detect hints of uranium over 100 years old!

Tiffany Girls has been one adventure after another. After co-curators Martin Eidelberg and Nina Grey “pretty much simultaneously” came across the lost letters of Clara Driscoll, one of Tiffany’s top designers, they and Hofer immediately went to work collaborating on the exhibition. Which is good, because they didn’t have much time. “We had basically a year to put together a book and an exhibition, which is unheard of, but the information was so fresh, and we wanted to be the ones to break it. We decided to just run with it,” said Hofer. It was a hit, and quickly gained the attention of curators in the U.S. and abroad. Initially there were no plans to travel the exhibit at all, but one Dutch curator had to have it, and helped organize a European tour to the Netherlands and Germany. Upon its return to the U.S. the exhibition headed to The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History in Albuquerque, NM, where it is on view through August. It may be an even bigger hit there than it was in New York. “They had to turn away people from the opening events!” said Hofer. “There’s not a lot of Tiffany in the Southwest, so it’s a really big deal for them.”

Getting the exhibition there didn’t involve any bomb-sniffing dogs, though there was a pooch keeping guard on one of the two 18-wheelers transporting the lamps west. Hofer recalls, “In [Collections Manager] Scott’s case he had to ride in a truck that didn’t have a sleeper unit, so he basically sat up for 40 hours with this guard dog in the cab! They don’t stop at all except to get food, but they just eat it in the truck.” Just remember that the next time the art truck comes rolling into your town.

When asked what she hopes people will take away from the exhibit, Hofer said, “We’ve brought back to life all these Tiffany girls. We asked people to share any information they had about the girls, and subsequently were contacted by some descendents. For instance, one woman whose aunt had been a tiffany girl brought in a picture of her and an autograph book that she kept, and all the girls that were there at the time had written little poems or well wishes, and even sketched watercolors. Those discoveries have been wonderful. And the three of us just recently finished an article on discoveries made since the exhibition, because stuff keeps turning up, so it’s very much a work in progress. We don’t feel like this is the definitive story, this is just pushing it along a little further.” The exhibition has also inspired the novel Clara and Mr. Tiffany, written by Susan Vreeland and based on the letters Clara Driscoll wrote while working for Tiffany.

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