||Stickley Era, the Arts & Crafts Movement
Furniture, metalwork, art pottery, architecture, events, and everything else. Welcome to the forum of the era of Gustav Stickley, the Roycrofters, and the many more shops and artisans who were active in the ca. 1900 - ca. 1915 period.
Joined: 02 May 2007
|Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 2:56 pm Post subject: History and Introduction to the Arts and Crafts Movement
|Here's a great introduction to the history and style philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
With thanks to Ken Lonsinger of Craftsman Perspective
Although the beginning of the Arts and Crafts movement is often attributed to the building of William Morris' Red House in 1859, the true birth of the movement happened some 25 years earlier when a young architect named Augustus Pugin (1812-1852) publicly railed against a newly industrialized society that was increasingly separating designer from laborer.
The Industrial Revolution was based in part on an "innovative" concept called division of labor. The idea, which is the foundation of modern factory work, was simply that by dividing a job into its various tasks products could be made more quickly. Rather than depending on a small number of highly skilled craftsmen to do everything, individual skills could be taught to a variety of people who would perform that chore and pass the item to another person to perform the next task.
The may have been good for the bottom line, but from the humanist perspective, the division of labor robbed workers of the pleasure of seeing their work through from conception to completion as the traditional values of quality and beauty were being replaced by the new motto of economy and profit.
As the Industrial Revolution expanded in the 1830's, the life of simplicity and wholesomeness began to disappear. However much excitement this Revolution caused, with its time- and labor-saving machines, forward-thinking people saw its potential to change the English way of life forever. The devaluation of nature and the human touch in favor of progress and production especially worried Pugin. He saw that in striving to master the future this new era was rapidly turning its back on the simple pleasures of traditional craftsmanship and artistry. Pugin was not necessarily anti-technology, but he wanted machines to perform the tedious and repetitive tasks they were designed for and not in the creation of second-rate, mass-produced decorative objects.
Pugin's philosophy struck a chord with a host of later artists/craftsmen/thinkers, most notably John Ruskin (1819-1900). During the late 1840's, Ruskin, an art history professor at Oxford University, began a campaign to return England to a simpler way of life in tune with nature. His vision called for the elimination of machine-made decoration and clean design free from foreign influence. The English, having borrowed heavily from the French in order to furnish their Victorian lifestyle, soon began to cast its collective eye inward for inspiration and there followed a revival of English Gothic and Medieval styles.
Ruskin also preached that work was meant to be joyous -- an idea that was lost on the growing multitude of factory workers who spent long hours toiling in poor conditions. This noble idea had its roots in the past when one's work was one's life and it was to become one of the Movement's basic tenets.
It is no coincidence that the Arts and Crafts movement's most important figure happened to be attending Oxford at the same time Ruskin was campaigning for reform. It is said that William Morris (1834-1896) was so moved by Ruskin's philosophy that in 1853 he dropped plans to become a minister in order to make his life's work the reformation of society through art. In 1859 he hired his friend and fellow architect Philip Webb to build Red House, which he painstakingly furnished with simple, custom-crafted furniture, wallpaper, tiles and accessories specifically designed to fit the home. It was here that the ideas of Pugin and Ruskin were made physical and thus began the architectural and design style known as British Arts and Crafts.
By 1860, Europe's Industrial Revolution was moving full steam ahead. Mass production was busy churning out affordable, but shoddy, products for a growing middle class hungry for material goods and England's Victorian style, with all of its gaudy trappings and snobbish class consciousness, was at its peak as the bourgeois sought to stake their place in society.
However, not everyone was buying into the industrial age dream. Architect/designer William Morris (1834-1896), as well as many other artists, writers, philosophers and theologians recognized that people were losing their connection with nature and so banded together to reestablishing that link. In England, as well as in mainland Europe, groups of artists and craftsmen began producing new objects that conveyed the same principles of quality and simplicity but in styles unique to each country.
(Incidentally, this period also saw the birth of the Impressionist art movement in France. The Beaux Art style of the times emphasized elaborate classical and mythological themes as well as meticulously detailed still lifes painted in the studio, whereas the Impressionists focused on capturing the vitality of everyday people and objects, and more importantly, painting out-of-doors where one could observe nature free from human control.)
Having successfully built and furnished Red House in 1859, Morris continued to refine his skills and ideas. In 1861 the Arts and Crafts Movement got its biggest boost when Morris founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co., a furniture, design and decorative accessories company that stressed time-honored craftsmanship and natural materials. The timing was perfect for in 1862 the London International Exhibition showcased never-before-seen Japanese arts and Crafts, which had an immediate effect on design. England quickly became enamored with this new look and began shedding the layers of Victorian clutter from its homes. In 1868 Charles Lock Eastlake published Hints in Household Taste -- a bestseller that stressed a single design style based on simplicity, rather than a chaotic hodgepodge of influences. The book also became a bestseller in America where news of this design and lifestyle was beginning to spread.
From 1870 to 1900 the British Arts and Crafts movement flourished and expanded. In 1873 Martin Brothers pottery was established, followed by Liberty & Co. in 1875. Craftsman guilds sprung up, most notably the Century Guild in 1882, followed in 1888 by the Guild of Handicraft and Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which was formed by members of the Royal Academy who were frustrated by the institution's definition of art in terms of fine art, relegating decorative arts to second-class citizenship. Together, these craftsman societies conveyed the Movement's philosophy through finely-wrought furniture, fabrics, pottery, tiles and accessories.
The guilds did much to advance the themes of clean design and clean living, but the 1896 death of William Morris foreshadowed the decline of the Movement in England. In 1900 another founder of British Arts and Crafts -- John Ruskin -- died, as did Oscar Wilde, who had championed the Movement's ideals in England and America. Although the guilds carried the spiritual and aesthetic message of these important figures, over the next decade interest would slowly decline as people looked for the next design fad and international tensions flared prior to the First World War. Finally, in 1909 the Guild of the Handicraft disbanded. It was replaced in 1915 by the Design and Industries Association (DIA), formed by many of the leading Arts and Crafts figures to promote the best of British design through exhibitions. The Association is still in existence today.
There are a number of important issues that made the American Arts and Crafts Movement quite distinct from its English counterpart. Foremost among them were America's lack of national identity and artistic tradition, its general acceptance of machines, and its optimism of the future.
In 1876, America hosted the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, a gala exhibition commemorating the nation's 100th year of independence. Politically, this was true, but culturally the natn was still very much tied to Europe. Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, America had been striving to assert its freedom, all the while working to maintain its European cultural heritage. The arts were either exported directly from, or based on ideas coming out of, England and France. American handicraft was crude by European standards and the only traditional American styles of furniture and architecture -- Colonial and Shaker-- was found to be lacking in skill and quality. Even 100 years later, when Oscar Wilde toured the States in 1882, he saw a country that was fond of art, but took no pride in craftsmanship. "I find what your people need is not so much high, imaginative art, but that which hallows the vessels of everyday use....Your people love art, but do not sufficiently honor the handicraftsmen."
That would begin to change over the next decade as the Arts and Crafts Movement took root in American design. However, whereas each European country had its own long history of national handicraft to draw inspiration from, America had only Shaker style. It therefore freely pulled from ideas and designs coming from France, Germany, Austria and most of all England. It should be noted that the Arts & Crafts Movement was not confined to England. The Movement's concerns and reformist ideals were echoed all across Europe at the same time. What was Arts and Crafts in England was called Art Nouveau in France and Belgium, Jugendstil in Germany and Succession in Austria. The designs followed similar themes, but were distinctly different from each other based on local materials, craftsmen and national tradition. In its own way, this was also true in America. The mixture of European styles, coupled with local material and the Shaker style (and later, Spanish missionary), would eventually lead to innovative designs that were very much American.
Interestingly, while in the mid- to late-1800's Europe was seeking to simplify its society and culture by romantically looking back at its Medieval life, America was full of optimistic hope for the future. The Movement's reformist message, which preached simplicity, utility, and handcrafted furnishings in tune with nature, was important as far as design inspiration, but America was not really pining for its rustic past. For many, Arts and Crafts simply became the newest design trend. Elaborate Victorian design was seen as increasingly heavy and ornate and a return to a humbler, more practical style was in order. However, this simplicity was based on the future, not the past.
For nearly a century American craftsmanship had suffered because of the nation's appetite for European-made and designed products. With the Movement's emphasis on handicraft, however, craftspeople began to explore new frontiers, as well as old ones. Whereas England demonized machines, America embraced them and made good use of them in the production of Arts and Crafts furniture and accessories. This may have seemed the antithesis of what the Movement stood for, but according to Charles Ashbee it wasn't. Ashbee, who founded of the Guild of Handicraft in London in 1888, wrote that the major concern of the Arts and Crafts Movement is "one of production...not so much how things should be made, but what is the meaning behind their making." The use of machines allowed far more "common" people to live the Arts and Crafts lifestyle in America than abroad, and that in turn created more interest, more demand for quality handicraft, and more innovative design.
To be sure, there were plenty of American Arts & Crafters who closely followed the English ideals, and generally, they set the standards others followed, at least in the early years. But the most successful and well-known American designers were the ones who, in the Arts and Crafts spirit, combined old-fashioned handicraft with the latest production techniques and design theories.
While the 1896 death of William Morris signaled the beginning of the end of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, it was a banner year in America. Following the 1895 founding of The Chalk and Chisel Club, America's first Arts and Crafts society, in Minneapolis, House Beautiful began publication. The magazine became the quintessential Arts and Crafts periodical, with regular features on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as the growing number of craftsmen and manufacturers who designed A&C furniture, tile, pottery, fabric and accessories.
In 1897, Arts and Crafts Societies were founded in Rochester, NY and Chicago. That year also saw the first Arts and Crafts Exhibition, in Boston. The success of the Exhibition and the press coverage of the manufacturers and designs inspired the formation of still more craftsman guilds and societies the next year. 1898 also heralded the founding of Gustav Stickley & Co., in Syracuse, NY, Charles Rohlfs furniture company in Buffalo, NY, and Henry Chapman Mercer's Moravian Pottery, in Doylestown, PA. All three companies were to become major players in the years to come, but it was the simple, geometric designs of Gustav Stickley that truly defined the American A&C Movement in the early 20th century.
Stickley was an ambitious man and a firm believer in the Movement's ideals. Not only did he design furniture, but homes as well. And to showcase his designs he began publishing his own monthly guide to better living. When Stickley began publication of Craftsman magazine in 1901, he had a complete vision of the perfect Arts and Crafts world. Each month, Craftsman would feature furniture and architectural plans for the ideal craftsman life. The magazine not only influenced the public at large, but the design world as well. It is no coincidence that the years 1901-1916 are often referred to as the Craftsman Movement for Craftsman magazine was the chief spokesman for a generation of designers who followed the ideas of Stickley.
Like William Morris and Frank Lloyd Wright, both of whom stressed the need for furnishings to fit the homes they were in, Stickley designed homes to fit the furniture he created. Simple "Craftsman-style" homes -- often no more than a few spacious rooms whose only ornamentation consisted of beautiful natural woodwork and room dividers along with a stone or brick hearth. An abundance of windows to let in natural light was also important since sunlight cast an entirely different light than gas and electric lights. "We have planned houses from the first that are based on the big fundamental principles of honesty, simplicity, and usefulness..." wrote Stickey in his Craftsman Homes.
These fundamental principles permeated all aspects of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America, from housing to furnishings down to a simple, unadorned terra cotta vase. Designers frowned upon the thoughtless collection and display of objects that were not useful or connected to their environment. And, after the excess of the Victorian Age, in which people crammed all manner of bric-a-brac and furnishings into their houses regardless of its style, this new "manual on living" was a breath of fresh air.
The Movement was also in step with the large-scale shift in the American standard of living. As cities thrived, life on the farm gave way to life in the suburbs. The idea of homeownership became the American dream, and the Craftsman dream was to build these homes and furnish them with objects that reflected the rural country life that fewer and fewer people experienced.
It would be naive to believe that all of the artisans, craftsmen and designers of this time were true A&C reformists. Even the ones who preached the need to return to simplicity most fervently took advantage of society's desire to consume. And, while it's inviting to think that Stickley and his contemporaries achieved the Utopian life of harmony, they tended to be anything but that. Rivalry and competition was as common then as now and their biting words were as likely to appear in the many Arts and Crafts publications as much as their advertisements.
Despite this less wholesome side of the Movement, the general mood of the times was positive. As in contemporary times, the big-name designers like Stickley, Wright and Hubbard set the trends and others followed. Originals by top designers were expensive, but there were plenty of affordable mass-produced pieces that allowed everyone to own a piece of the lifestyle. Sears Robuck & Co. sold its own popular version of the Morris chair, and its kit homes in bungalow and foursquare style could be found all across America. By 1915, though, the media was tired of the style and actively searching the the next great design trend. In addition, the social changes brought on by America's gearing up for, and eventual entry into, World War One served to wake America up from its cocooning, hearth-and-home dream.
The death of Roycroft founder Elbert Hubbard, who drown when the Germans sank the Lusitania in 1915, foreshadowed the death of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Like a sinking ship, the A&C era was slowly, inevitably going under. Wright's studio was busy defining a new style of architecture (Prairie Style) based on the flat Midwestern landscape, and artists were again taking their cue from Europe, which was moving on to Modernism. Even Stickley was forced to jump ship; he published last edition of Craftsman in 1916 and was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1917.
Although there are many ending dates for the Arts and Crafts Movement, ranging from 1916 to 1920 and even up to 1929, it is safe to say that the period had effectively ended by 1916, and its popularity had dramatically declined by 1919. However, its design effects were still felt for some time and homes continued to be built in the style for a good decade, though they were usually modified.
Whichever date one chooses to put on the end of the era, the influence of the American Arts and Crafts Movement cannot be overlooked. And its idealism, beauty and simplicity have a ring of truth that is as inspiring today as 100 years ago.
The Evolution of the Arts and Crafts Style
Although the A&C philosophy focused on "revolution through art," its principles were formed by a set a great overarching values:
• Find joy in work
• Create objects that are not only well-designed, but affordable to everyone
• Live simply
• Stay connected to nature
• Maintain integrity of "place"
These ideals were expressed in artistic endeavors through hand-crafted objects, an uncluttered style of home decor, landscape art that was actually created on-site outdoors, and homes that were built of local materials and fit the landscape.
Even 150 years ago there was a sense that the modern way of life was separating people from the world around them.
• People were involved in dangerous and unhealthy factory and mining jobs, performing repetitive tasks that offered no rewarding sense of satisfaction for creating things.
• Mass production was all about churning out as many good as possible for the growing middle class. Unfortunately, these products were poorly designed, and poorly built. The best things were still hand-made, but growing ever-more expensive than shoddy mass-produced items.
• The Victorian lifestyle was all about showing off how much money you had, and people tried to fill their houses with as many trinkets and frivolous decorative objects to show that they could afford to spend their money on non-essential things.
• For centuries, painting was a profession few could afford to do, and so most painters were employed by royalty - kings, earls, dukes who felt that nature was to be experienced from the castle windows. The idea of actually setting up a canvas in a field of sunflowers was unheard of until the Impressionist era. Until then, Artists generally painted landscapes from memory inside their studios.
• In England, everything French was in vogue. And in America, people looked to England and France for cultural inspiration. Popular American architecture of the time was full of English and French styles that had nothing at all in common with the history and landscape around them.
Although the A&C principles that sought to reverse these trends were created in the 1840s, and the Movement's popularity had peaked by 1910, the ideals have never truly been forgotten. They've only evolved and been incorporated into new ideas.
• The popularity of the California bungalow was so great that it evolved into the Ranch style seen across America. Although the bungalow was a prettier style, the Ranch was more generic and so fit the landscape of more places. Frank Lloyd Wright took the bungalow concept and evolved it into the first "ranch" house. This style became popular after WWII when returning millions of soldiers needed affordable housing to begin their families, and millions of people live in these distinctly American homes.
• The technical revolution of the 1950s and 60's was reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution 100 years earlier in that austentatous displays of wealth grew increasingly important. This time, however, the greatest status symbol was the automobile. America's quest for money and luxury lasted for over 30 years with the glitter and glitz of the 1970's, and the gluttony, greed of the 1980's. Then things began to change. First, the design trend became "less is more." And while materials emphasized the machine-world (steel, aluminum, glass, black and silver paint), things were progressing toward a reassessment of life values that aligned with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Around 1990 a new mind set began to sweep America. Partly inspired by the idea of healthy living and trends coming out of the Pacific northwest, concepts like "simple", "natural" and clean" suddenly became fashionable again, and interest in the Arts and Crafts style was reborn.
• After the original Arts and Craft homeowners had lived in these houses their entire lives, A second generation of homeowners updated these houses with modern 1950's appliances, painted the woodwork, and stayed until the 1970's when urban decay began to set in and suburban living was booming. Additional updates were made by owners in the 1970's, but in many areas, older houses were unfashionable, or in undesirable neighborhoods, and so many were left in disrepair. Happily, things changed in the 1990's. Today's generation of Arts and Crafts homeowners are more interested in their homes' history, urban living is more popular, housing prices are low, and many are looking to retore these houses to their original state because new construction lacks the beauty and character of these old homes.
• There are many things that the original A&C philosophers would have liked about living the Martha Stewart lifestyle. A focus on hand-made objects...from food to wreaths, joy in the process of creation -- from idea to finished product, and emphasis on a style that was uncluttered. Unfortunately, Martha made her lifestyle a symbol of snobbery... the exact opposite of what was intended. At least in the beginning, people wanted to emulate Martha because it conveyed a sense of wealth and sophistication -- if you can afford to spend the time and money doing Martha's craft projects then you must be rich.
• As further evidence that A&C ideals continue to evolve 150 years later, walk into any Walmart or Target these days and you'll find a selection of Mission style furniture. How could this happen? Is it poor-quality, mass-produced Arts and Crafts furniture? Or is it simple furniture that is both affordable and well-designed? The lines have blurred. High-quality, hand-crafted Mission furniture is available, but is too expensive for many people. So which follows the Arts and Crafts ideals better? Is there room for both to co-exist and not contradict one another? And is it important anymore?
No matter how you consider the yin and yang of today's Arts and Crafts revival, it's apparent that the principles are evolving and adapting to life in the 21st century.
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