OBJECTS THAT ARE USEFUL as well as beautiful just kill me. Therefore, I adore the decorative arts: The English designer William Morris is my hero, I’m a fan of the Wiener Werkstätte aesthetic movement in turn-of-the-century Austria (the Neue Galerie in New York is a good place to see this stuff), and museums like the Victoria and Albert (London) and Cooper-Hewitt (New York) are among my favorites.
It is ironic that museums are where these wallpapers and lamps, tea sets and textiles now repose, when the whole point was to use them at home, for practical purposes, thus giving a certain loveliness to everyday life.
Tiffany glass is not really on my top ten list. It is too vivid, adamantly outlined, picture-perfect. But I just read a new novel about Louis Comfort Tiffany and the women who worked in his studio—primarily one woman, Clara Driscoll, who was a designer in her own right and may have come up with the original idea of the leaded-glass lamp—and my imagination was galvanized. Not so much by the allure of the glass itself as by the process of creating it, and of course by the struggle of women to be acknowledged as equal to men in the decorative arts…or any arts, for that matter, other than the traditional “womanly” ones.
For my complete review of Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland (she has written a bunch of novels inspired by women artists whom history has overlooked, notably Artemisia), go to www.bookreporter.com/reviews2/9781400068166.asp