Outside the Box

What a summer it’s been! A summer full of surprises. The wacky weather, the sporting highs and lows and even your secret favourite reality show (it’s ok, we won’t tell); it’s been one big turnaround after another. Expecting the unexpected became the new normal. And things at the Haworth were turned on their heads a bit too.


Throughout the summer, the Haworth staff have been working hard to manage the redisplay of the world-famous Tiffany glass exhibition. The display is being reimagined to illustrate more closely how the town came to own such a major collection of works by New York’s famed Tiffany Studios; itself an unexpected turn of events.

Jack in the Pulpit, a fine example of Tiffany’s stylised organic forms, Haworth collection

In fact, you could say the Haworth embodies the unexpected: an elegant Arts & Crafts mansion in a hard graft northern town; a venerable museum and art gallery where you can enjoy a Sunday rock concert; an oasis of art and culture where kids can come and get messy – and everyone can fill their boots with a lush lunch.  But perhaps the biggest contradiction of all: an internationally important collection of American art glass . . . in Accrington!

How did a stunning collection of American Art Nouveau come to be in a small industrial town in Lancashire? Accrington’s many exports to New York, the products of its textile and manufacturing industries, famously include the ‘Nori’ brick core of the Empire State Building. But how did the Big Apple give up so many treasures to Accrington?

Its history follows that of a migrant Accrington lad and is a touching tribute to his hometown. The story of Joseph Briggs and his journey to New York is a significant piece of the exhibit’s provenance, and one which curator Gillian Berry felt merited closer attention.

Joseph Briggs, by O Segall

Briggs, an engraver by training and a creative soul, was uninspired by the prospect of industrial working life in Lancashire and left for New York at the tender age of 17. His early experience in his adoptive home was far from humdrum. Through chance encounters, he spent his first couple of years in the US performing in a Wild West show; a far cry from Accrington factory life!

But Briggs’ ambitions lay elsewhere and he sought out work that would utilise his artistic skills. As luck would have it, Tiffany Studios was looking to hire new talent. Tiffany Studios was a dazzling nexus of artistic creation that captured the era’s zeitgeist and energy; exactly where Briggs wanted to be. Sadly, after a couple of applications, he didn’t make the cut. However, his artful perseverance (and perhaps a bit of northern nous) ultimately succeeded in winning him a place as Louis Comfort Tiffany’s right hand man – quite literally.

Briggs earned his 1893 entree to the company by a chance encounter in the rain, when the Englishman deftly accompanied Tiffany from his car to his office under his trusty umbrella, and forged an instant connection. After an initial trial, for which he depicted a religious scene in order to demonstrate the range of his skills, Briggs was hired. In time, he would be promoted to run the company’s mosaics department, ultimately becoming Managing Director of the studios and remaining for some 40 years. Briggs’ association with Tiffany was unique; both had maverick and creative streaks that they understood in each other. and the two worked very closely to the great benefit of the company. 

One of several lava vases in the Haworth’s Tiffany collection, organically formed in iridescent glass
After decades of glittering successes for Tiffany Studios and its highly decorative and decadent works, styles began to shift to more simplified forms. The cleaner, more restrained lines of Art Deco and Art Moderne were coming into vogue. The death knell came with the onset of the Great Depression, which killed the market for Tiffany’s sumptuous works and the company finally  closed its doors in 1932.

Briggs had the overseer’s task of winding up the studios and their contents. In so doing,  his mind returned to his hometown. He arranged for a large trove of some 140 Tiffany treasures to be sent back to Lancashire, where they were gifted to the town of Accrington Sadly, Briggs’ own demise not long afterwards, meant that his gift became his personal legacy to his native town.

The collection was placed in safe storage during the Second World War and languished unappreciated in boxes and crates for many years. But in the 1970s, the glass found its way to the Haworth and, happily for the viewing public, has been on display there ever since; an awe-inspiring representation of artistic and human endeavour. The collection is perfectly at home in the sympathetic surroundings of Walter Brierley’s Arts & Crafts architecture; the house and the collection each being wonderful examples of their respective turn-of-the-Century design schools.

The story of Briggs’ life is beautifully told in Douglas Jackson’s book Mosaic

The new reconfiguration of the Tiffany exhibit at the Haworth will illustrate the journey of these astonishing artefacts  and highlight their connection – the great gift of Joseph Briggs and his part in Tiffany Studios’ success – to the town they now call home. Briggs’ own interest and prowess  in mosaic-making will be brought to the fore and the flow of the exhibit will emphasise this creative process and its significance within the collection. It’s sure to be a fresh and fascinating approach to this stunning exhibit.

Stay posted for news of the display’s reveal and whatever you do, don’t delay – come see for yourself!

Fresh light on spring blooms: Clara Driscoll and the ‘Tiffany Girls’

Daffodil lampshade designed by Clara Driscoll, circa 1899-1920, privately owned (image, Wikimedia Commons).

Spring bulbs in bloom, branches heavy with apple blossom, trailing racemes of laburnum and wisteria, each illuminated in stunning clarity, as vivdly as in nature. The bright botanicals of Tiffany lamps are a phenomenon of design, but the little-known history behind their creation is equally astonishing.

While Louis Comfort Tiffany was always the marquee name at the forefront of Tiffany Studios (and a carefully maintained brand image), much of Tiffany’s creative work was carried out in anonymity by a large team of designers and artisans. Although the Tiffany staff was largely male, women soon became a key part of the workforce. From 1892 onwards, a critical part of of the cohort comprised a creative powerhouse of women: the self-annointed ‘Tiffany Girls’. They worked in the Women’s Glass Cutting Department, a separate division within the otherwise male design team. The department was led by  a remarkable woman whose artistic talents played an enormous but publicly underrepresented  role in the company’s prodigious output.

Clara Driscoll and Joseph Briggs in a Tiffany workroom, circa 1901 (Wkimedia Commons).

Clara Driscoll, a skilled designer and artist in glass, created  many of the company’s most beautiful and innovative designs, including iconic dragonfly and wisteria lamps, striking peony and poppy lamps and various other floral filigree lamp designs illustrated here. In fact, according to recent research detailing the history of Driscoll’s influence and the work of the women designers: “It was possibly Clara who hit upon the idea of making leaded shades with nature-based themes,” A major element of the Tiffany brand.

Wisteria table lamp, circa 1902, designed by Clara Driscoll (image, Wikimedia Commons).

Clara counted many skilled and artistically adventurous women among her team, including Agnes Northrop, another talented and prolific designer, but the demands of the work meant that it was not a job for any artist, regardless of her abilities. As inconceivable as it may seem in our times, women could only be employed at the Studios if they were single. Clara was obliged on two separate occasions to leave her job, the first of which when she was engaged to be married. She returned to work after the untimely death of her husband, but left again when she became engaged for a second time. This engagement ended in the mysterious disappearance of her fiancé and Clara’s ensuing third term at Tiffany was her longest and most prolific. During this time she was also responsible for managing the now sizeable department of some 35 women.

Continue reading “Fresh light on spring blooms: Clara Driscoll and the ‘Tiffany Girls’”

Tiffany Turtleback Over the Pond

Turtleback chandelier, Image courtesy of Macklowe Gallery.

A delightful visit to the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian’s Design Museum in New York to mark its acquisition of a Tiffany turtleback chandelier from Macklowe Gallery  Housed in the former New York city mansion home of Scottish financier and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the museum has formally acquired this fine example of a Tiffany pendant lamp for permanent display in its recently restored Teak Room.

Subtly illuminating the Teak Room

As the home’s former library, the Teak Room is the most intact of the Carnegies’ family rooms. On the first floor (second if you’re American) of the  mansion, it is a burnished cocoon of a room, a sanctuary where the family could relax away from the house’s more public lower floor. Decorated by artist and interior designer Lockwood De Forest in the Arts & Crafts idiom, it is inspired by his infatuation, and that of his contemporaries, with Indian design and craftsmanship. Its ceiling’s filigree pattern depicts a bramble of interwoven branches against a field of lacquered ochre. The gleaming golden light of the chandelier illuminates both the ceiling and the lustrous red-gold sheen of the stylized floral wall coverings to subtle effect. Continue reading “Tiffany Turtleback Over the Pond”

Friends attend Talbot Conference showcasing major photographic archive

Friends were offered a fascinating glimpse into 20th century Lancashire working life and culture at a February conference highlighting exhibits from a major photographic archive. The inaugural Talbot Conference showcased the extensive works of Blackburn-based photographers Wally Talbot and his son Howard, whose commercial photography was widely commissioned by regional and national news media from the 1930s to the 1990s, creating a vivid documentary of local life and social history of the period.

The archive ranges in subject from industrial life in the early part of the century and bucolic scenes of the Lancashire countryside to major news and events of the times, including visiting music stars and celebrities. It is the subject of a major digitisation project in collaboration with Blackburn`College. Peter Graham, a student in the Photographic Media Degree Programme at Blackburn and a key contributor to this project, is also undertaking a ‘live brief’ photography project at Haworth Art Gallery as part of his curriculum.  Stay posted for more about Peter’s work on the Friends’ blog.

The inaugural Talbot Conference covered a range of subjects including the social, political, historical and technical contexts of the archive and provided an excellent opportunity to view this eclectic mix of images, some of which have never previously been published. To see these images and read more about the Wally & Howard Talbot Collection, visit  www.cottontown.org

A meaningful insight into local history and culture and a very welcome introduction to this amazing archive which more than merits a visit. A big thank you to Peter for the invites to the conference for our group!