American Art, Embroidery, Associated Artists, Tiffany

Degrees of Separation – Tiffany, de Forest & the Wheeler women

Submitted by Christine Edmonson on

The September/October issue of our museum Members Magazine includes an article by objects conservators Samantha Springer and Colleen Snyder on the conservation effort on the museum's 18th century French clock, with its exquisite Boule marquetry. This fascinating account reminded me to ask the two about our Tiffany hall clock, which had been keeping watch in Gallery 208 until recently. Though not currently on view, the clock chimed in on my research recently.    

It begins then with our Tiffany hall clock, searching for similar hall clocks that might have Lockwood de Forest connections. This search, with zero results, leads to the history of a New York company of interior decorators, The Associated Artists: Louis Comfort Tiffany, Lockwood de Forest, Candace Wheeler, and Samuel Coleman. Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932), painter, student of F.E. Church and lover of Indian handicrafts, plays a major role in the company, procuring Indian carvings used to decorate American house interiors. His love of Indian architecture and craft soon lead to the creation of an Ahmedabad shop, the men and boys of the Mistri caste. Our Tiffany hall clock is decorated with these carved panels, with similar scroll designs published in our copy of his Illustrations of Design.

Candace Wheeler (1827-1923), influenced by Coleman’s textile collection and inspired by the Kensington Royal School of Art Needlework at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, establishes her reputation through the Associated Artists as a fabulous textile designer and embroiderer. Candace spent decades in New York with American painters: Church (“we called him Free Episcopal Church”), Lafarge, Gifford, Kensett, Cole, Bryant and Durand among others. She writes in Yesterdays in a Busy Life“All of these men I have seen grow into old, instead of young Academicians, as they were then, and all of whom, alas! with one dear exception, I miss now from my dwindled circle of this world’s acquaintances.”

I soon learn that Candace and her daughter, Dora, are selected to decorate the interior of the Columbian Exposition’s “Woman’s Building” described and illustrated in the Ingalls’ copy of Official Edition Art and Handicraft in the Woman’s Building of 1893. Dora, a student of William Merritt Chase, is responsible for the ceiling murals in the New York Library: "The ceiling was put up, with a wide deep border and a modeled frieze that brought it to within reasonable distance of the paneled bookcases.”

Wait a minute, Dora Wheeler?  Our Dora Wheeler? And sure enough it is! Dora, as painted by her teacher William Merritt Chase against a brilliant yellow silk tapestry, faces forward with a pensive gaze. Her brilliant blue and fur-edged costume gives her an air of sophistication and grace. Chase painted Dora just about the same time the Tiffany hall clock was created. Finally, I see that Dora has gifted her portrait to the Cleveland Museum of Art, in memory of the Wades, but also because we own Chase’s portrait of his daughter, Portrait of my Daughter, AliceThis is a 1920 gift of the Horace Kelley family, in memory of their daughter, Virginia. Degrees of separation, and it all comes full circle. And all there is left is to count the time until the Tiffany Hall Clock is reinstalled, reportedly with its pendulum on display for the first time.