The Arts and Crafts movement that swept the United States and Great Britain from roughly 1880 to 1920 was a response to the industrialization of the late 19th century. It was a call on the part of thinkers, poets, artists, and designers to return to a handmade aesthetic, in which craftsmanship was paramount, design was nature-inspired , and construction methods were straightforward, simple, and undisguised.
English art critic John Ruskin had actually articulated the movement’s founding principles several decades earlier. He considered the prevailing Victorian aesthetic decadent and argued for working conditions that considered the happiness of craftsmen. Pattern designer William Morris put Ruskin’s theories into practice when he established Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861 to create everything from furniture to wallpaper to fabrics to tapestries.
Another craftsman to put the ideals of Arts and Crafts into action was Charles Robert Ashbee, who established his Guild of Handicraft in 1888 in the slums of London’s East End. The goal was to produce furniture, metalware, and jewelry in an atmosphere of fair wages, good working conditions, and cooperation.
Most British artists of the day did not take the movement’s social side that far. Instead, they contented themselves to producing furniture, ceramics, metalwork, and jewelry that hued to the visual principles of the movement, which got its formal name of Arts and Crafts in 1888.
Liberty & Co. in London brought the movement to the masses with chairs, plant stands, bookcases, and buffets, mostly in oak and mahogany. Individual designers of the day included William De Morgan, whose earthenware vases often suggested Persian influences.
Scotsman Charles Rennie Mackintosh, also considered a practitioner of Art Nouveau (which ran concurrently with the Arts and Crafts period), was another leader. From his Glasgow workshop, he produced handsome desks and other pieces of furniture. His high-backed chairs, especially the ones with trellis backs, are considered his signature.
Robert “Mouseman” Thompson arrived on the scene a little later. His charming gimmick was to adorn a carved mouse on the side of every piece of furniture he made...
In the United States, the Arts and Crafts movement was warmly embraced. Gustav Stickley published a highly influential magazine called The Craftsman from 1901 to 1916. Through his Craftsman Workshops in Syracuse, New York, he also produced furniture and metalwork.
Two of Stickley’s brothers, John George and Albert, established their own firm, Stickley Bros. Co., in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1891. After John George left to start yet another Stickley company with yet another brother (L. & J. G. Stickley in Fayetteville, New York with brother Leopold), Albert carried on at Stickley Bros., eventually labeling his pieces with a tag that read "Quaint Furniture."
Leopold and John George produced pieces for one of the 20th century's greatest architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. Today Wright is more closely associated with what we now call the Prairie School, a type of architecture that emphasized horizontal lines and eschewed ornamentation. But at the turn of the 20th century, he was considered one of the leading practitioners of Arts and Crafts. Importantly, Leopold and John George were not above using mechanical techniques to produce their pieces. Thus, they embraced the aesthetic of Arts and Crafts if not its social and philosophical underpinnings.
Louis Comfort Tiffany was perhaps even more famous than Stickley, although like Macintosh, his style straddled Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Some of the finest examples of the former are his lamps with ceramic bases by Grueby Faience Company of Massachusetts.
Speaking of ceramics, the oldest pottery in the United States, Fulper Pottery Company, also became a proponent of Arts and Crafts with its 1909 Vasecraft line. Rookwood Pottery was a breeding ground for numerous Arts and Crafts ceramists — at one time or another, Artus Van Briggle, Matthew A. Daly William P. MacDonald, Albert Valentien, and John D. Wareham were all on staff.
More difficult to categorize was George Ohr, the so-called "Mad Potter of Biloxi, Mississippi," whose deformed and pinched vases fairly drip with candy-colored glazes. Newcomb College pottery from New Orleans went the other way, promoting simply-shaped vases and plates, usually with floral decorations in soft, pastel glazes.
Regions developed their own specialties. New York was the home of Roycroft, which excelled in copper objects for the home, handmade books, and fine wooden furniture. In Northern California, Arequipa Pottery of Fairfax imported future Fiesta visionary Frederick H. Rhead to design its pieces from 1910-1912. Dirk Van Erp was another San Francisco Bay Area artisan of renown: His metal vases featured his trademark "warty" surface produced by hand-hammering.
In Southern California, Pasadena was the center for Arts and Crafts. In 1908, architects Charles Sumner and Henry Matthew Greene designed what many consider to be the movement’s architectural masterpiece for David and Mary Gamble. A year later, tilemaker Ernest T. Bachelder established a school devoted to the movement.
Meanwhile, in Chicago and Boston, jewelry in the Arts and Crafts style was very popular. The Kalo Shop opened in Chicago in 1900. And in Boston, Frank Gardner Hale and Edward E. Oakes were among that city’s leading jewelry designers.
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Heavy metal: Sourcing the slow craft movementMountain Xpress, April 18th
In essence, Craig and organizations like Ethical Metalsmith and No Dirty Gold are picking up where the Arts and Crafts movement left off at the turn of the last century by pushing for responsible materials sourcing. The Arts and Crafts movement focused...Read more
Neighborhood news and eventsRochester Democrat and Chronicle, April 17th
Rose Welch of the Osher Institute will discuss the “Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1880s to 1920s” and how it changed the exterior and interior design of American homes. Her presentation will include photos and commentary on some of the furnishing and ...Read more
Inspired Interiors: Tour America's oldest art glass companyIndianapolis Star, April 17th
So have aficionados of the Arts and Crafts movement. Louis Comfort Tiffany used colored and textured opalescent glass to create his artworks, including glass from KOG, then known as The Opalescent Glass Works. One of the company's first shipments of ...Read more
'1900' was a most decorative year, Frye exhibit provesThe Seattle Times, April 17th
In Britain and the United States, it was called the Arts and Crafts movement. In Germany and Austria, architects, craftsmen, designers and artists in the Munich Secession and the Vienna Secession movements worked in a similar style. In France and...Read more
A Distinctive Address in Surrey, EnglandNew York Times, April 16th
Built in the early years of the 20th century, the mansion, which has eight bedrooms, is a mix of architectural styles, with echoes of the Arts and Crafts movement in the mullioned square windows and rounded arches. A clock tower at the end of the wide...Read more
SLOMA screens documentary about American arts and crafts pioneer Elbert ...New Times SLO, April 15th
But in upstate New York, there was another man of business raging against the machine: Elbert Hubbard, a pioneer of the American Arts and Crafts Movement and the subject of the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art's upcoming film night selection, Elbert ...Read more
Can craft and capitalism coexist?BBC News, April 14th
Morris and the followers of the Arts and Crafts movement, which spanned Britain, the United States and Japan in the late 19th century, argued that mass manufactured products devalued labour and led to cheap and ugly surroundings. It's not too big a...Read more
TV antiques expert seeks help rebuilding fire-ravaged Arts and Crafts Eco ...East Anglian Daily Times, March 28th
Inspired by the ideals of William Morris and John Ruskin who began “The Arts and Crafts Movement” more than a century ago, the project aims to “work organically with the land and harmonise with the environment”. Mr Geering describes it as “an...Read more