Author inspired by beauty, mystery of Tiffany
GREENWICH — Author M.J. Rose has always been fascinated by the subject of beauty — who makes it and who consumes it.
And when it comes to one of the greatest creators of beauty who ever lived, Louis Comfort Tiffany, the man who created the modern form of stained glass, Rose has held a lifelong interest.
As a girl playing at her great-grandparent’s house in Brooklyn, Rose, a longtime Greenwich resident and a New York Times best-selling author, was transfixed by a Tiffany stained-glass window in the dining room. “I was kind of obsessed with watching the light, how it would move, the colors,” the author recalled. As a youngster, she became fascinated by Tiffany and the world he created.
“He was obsessed with beauty - his whole existence was to create beauty. And he basically invented what we think of as stained glass,” Rose said.
Tiffany, whose father founded Tiffany & Co., built an estate on Long Island as a total work of art, inviting promising artists to come and study there. His home, with 84 rooms and 14 fountains, burned in a 1957 fire, and Rose weaves that mysterious fire, a love story and her closely researched historical material into her latest work of fiction, “Tiffany Blues.”
“It comes out of my lifelong interest in art, and in Tiffany,” said Rose, author of a dozen novels.
The story centers on a fictional character, Jenny Bell, who goes to study at the estate, Laurelton Hall, under the guidance of Tiffany.
“I really like writing books about secrets, and loss, and I like looking for beauty. I really responded to Tiffany’s quest for beauty. I wanted to write a book about people who are that interested and involved, who care that much about beauty,” said Rose.
The mysterious fire that destroyed most of Laurelton Hall is plot point that turns up the suspense factor. “They never found out who set the fire, it was arson,” said Rose, who lives in central Greenwich. “It burned for five days and five nights, it was the largest fire they ever had on Long Island.”
Rose is also entranced by the time period, the 1920s, which she sees as a high point of American design standards, driven in part by visionaries like Tiffany. “It was an amazing time for the arts,” she said. “Everything looked gorgeous.”
Her appreciation for high-quality aesthetics is one reason she calls Greenwich home, Rose said, and she is demoralized by what she calls declining standards of design that make the 1920s seem like a truly golden age for beauty in the public and private realms.
“At least it’s still pretty here - Greenwich is a beautiful town, and its environs. There’s a sense that design matters, beautiful things matter, and Greenwich Avenue still has a lot of style to it,” she observed.
In her latest novel, the author also indulges in her passions for jewelry and perfume. “It’s wearable art. Perfume and jewelry, they’re art forms, and I’m fascinated by with how people incorporate beauty into their lives in things like perfume and jewelry,” she said.
Rose also knowns what sells, both in the literary marketplace and the world of commerce. She started out in the fine arts as a young woman, then went to work in advertising. Discovering a talent for story-telling, Rose began to write fiction. She’s still in the advertising game, as the founder of AuthorBuzz, an advertising agency exclusively tailored to sell books.
Writing fiction and doing the research, she said, were a pleasure. She spent a copious amount of time in the archives, and had the pleasure of reading through a rare copy of Tiffany’s memoirs, beautifully bound and illustrated.
“I wanted to escape into a different time, and I wanted to give readers a chance to escape, too,” she said.
There have been some regrets in her work on the world of beauty that Tiffany helped create.
Her family did not keep the Tiffany stained glass that they owned in Brooklyn. Changing tastes and fashions, she said, made Tiffany glass seem like a worthless anachronism at the time. What could have been a prized family heirloom was lost.
“Nobody thought it was valuable,” Rose recalled ruefully, “It’s a sad family story.”