Louis Comfort Tiffany is synonymous with the lamps that bear his name. However, a recent discovery about the lamps’ origins helped shape a new exhibition space currently under construction at the New-York Historical Society.
It was well-known that Tiffany employed dozens of women—known as “Tiffany Girls”—to carefully select the glass fragments that went into Tiffany lamps, one of the many types of objets de luxe his company produced. (Tiffany thought women had a better eye for color.) However, letters discovered in 2005 and written by one such Tiffany Girl, Clara Driscoll, revealed that she was a leading creative force in the lamp studio and designed several lamps herself.
Now, the New-York Historical Society’s 100 Tiffany lamps will be celebrated in a new gallery that will stand adjacent to the also new 1,500-square-foot Joyce B. Cowin’s History Gallery, a space dedicated to exhibitions organized by the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History. The newly-established center is the first institution of its kind dedicated to public exhibits on women in American history. Both spaces will be located on the museum’s fourth floor, which was previously an archive.
Rendering of glass staircase in the Tiffany Gallery, Fourth Floor New-York Historical Society. (Courtesy Eva Jiřičná Architects)
London and Prague-based architect Eva Jiřičná, who designed the Jewellery gallery at the V&A, is behind the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, with New York City-based PBDW as architects of record. Specially-crafted curving glass displays, surrounded by a low-light environment and dark blue walls, will let the lamps shine unencumbered. The 4,800-square-foot, two-story Gallery of Tiffany Lamps will also feature an all-glass curving staircase lit by LEDs. Its glowing structural glass steps, risers, and vertical fins will fit together with minimal metal connection details. In addition to telling the history of Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, visitors will be able to create their own Tiffany lamp through an interactive digital installation.
Bass Otis, 1784-1861. Mrs. James Madison (Dolley Payne Todd, 1768-1849), ca. 1817. Oil on canvas. Gift of Thomas Jefferson Bryan. (Courtesy New-York Historical Society)
The Joyce B. Cowin’s History Gallery will be inaugurated with Saving Washington, an exhibition on First Lady Dolley Madison, along with items from the archives of Billie Jean King, an interactive multimedia wall, among other artifacts. Lastly, as part of the 4th floor’s revamp, a new North Gallery will host items from the society’s permanent collection—such as a copper globe from 1542 that traces Giovanni da Verrazzano’s voyage—in fifteen themed niches.
The New North Gallery. (Courtesy New-York Historical Society)
The Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, Joyce B. Cowin’s History Gallery, and North Gallery will open April 8th. A new 4th floor multimedia center, which will feature scanners, computers, a 3D printer, and more, will come online this summer.
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