From the tail end of the 19th century through the first few decades of the 20th, the Roycrofters of East Aurora, New York produced beautiful examples of Mission-style furniture, handmade books, and a variety of hand-hammered copper vases, lamps, candleholders, humidors, and bowls.
Founded by writer and soap entrepreneur Elbert Hubbard in 1897, the Roycroft community was inspired by the work of English Arts and Crafts proponents William Morris and John Ruskin.
According to Roycroft metalwork collector David Kornacki, the late 1800s were a time of artistic upheaval in the United States as artists rebelled against the social and aesthetic strictures of the waning Victorian Era. Artists were even less thrilled about a future in which objects once created by craftsmen and artisans were increasingly mass-produced.
Sharing these concerns, Elbert Hubbard decided to develop the Roycroft Campus in 1897. A blacksmith shop came first in 1899, and it was here that the earliest examples of Roycroft wrought-iron fixtures, andirons, and hinges were made.
A copper shop followed in 1902, constructed of local stone with a half-timbered and stucco exterior. Artisans at the copper shop produced the hardware for the doors, furniture, and light fixtures around the growing campus.
By 1906, Roycroft offered a limited inventory of copper items (pen trays, letter openers, etc.) for sale. Production increased slowly at first, which means there are relatively few Roycroft pieces from 1906 to 1911 available on the market today.
Concurrently, the Roycroft press started printing small, handmade books, with hand-tooled, gold-inlaid leather covers designed by Dard Hunter and binding by the master of his day, Lewis Kinder. They sold beyond anyone’s expectations and, along with the copper pieces, furniture, and leather items, put Roycroft on the Arts-and-Crafts map...
Hunter left Roycroft in 1910 to pursue a career in papermaking, but not before collaborating with fellow Roycrofter Karl Kipp on a number of copper designs influenced by the early Vienna Secessionist Movement. These pieces were less organic than the typical Arts and Crafts style, with geometric patterns, intricate cutouts, and silver overlays. These so-called “silver square” pieces remain some of the most collectible Roycrofts available.
Kipp, too, would leave Roycroft to found his own business in 1912. His Tookay Shop, also in East Aurora, produced copper pieces that are almost indistinguishable from Roycrofts, save the mark on their base. That same year, another prominent Roycroft designer, Walter U. Jennings, joined Kipp at Tookay. Roycroft may have lost Kipp and Jennings in 1912, but they gained Victor Toothaker, who, it is believed, designed the famous American Beauty vase.
Both men returned to the fold in 1915 after Elbert Hubbard and his wife, Alice, were killed when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat — that act of aggression prompted the U.S. entry into World War I. The Hubbard’s son, Bert, took over management of the Roycroft copper shop, while Kipp and Jennings designed Roycroft classics like the “bullet” vase. It all paved the way for Roycroft’s most glorious decade, the 1920s.
By now, Roycroft was using Steuben glass in its lamps. The copper shop produced vases, bowls, lamps, cigar boxes, and ashtrays, to name but a few of the items in its catalog. Almost every major department store in the country, including Lord and Taylor, sold Roycroft pieces to its well-heeled customers.
The Depression put an end to most of that, but it wasn’t just the economy that killed Roycroft. Hammered metalwork was beginning to appear tired and dated compared to up-and-coming movements of Bauhaus and Art Deco. Roycroft actually tried to change with the times, but customers were not completely convinced. Neither are collectors. As Kornacki puts it, “People collecting Roycroft copper today generally want brown metalwork with hammer marks on it, they don’t want smooth surfaces with bright shiny angles.”
Roycroft closed its doors in 1938, but the Roycroft Campus is now a National Historic Landmark that’s slowly being restored. It is open to the public.
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New East Aurora art gallery opens Friday with photography showBuffalo News, February 25th
East Aurora, already a destination for art lovers and gallery-hoppers, will welcome yet another art space to its vibrant visual arts scene on Friday. The Neil and Barbara Chur Family Gallery, housed in the loft of the power house on the Roycroft Campus...Read more
Special EventsWest Seneca Bee, February 24th
26, at The Roycroft Inn, 40 S. Grove St., East Aurora; $. 652-5552 ... 2015 Art of Beer — This is the largest annual fundraiser for the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, and a showcase of local breweries and restaurants, 6-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, at...Read more
All Rights ReservedWest Seneca Bee, February 24th
Susan Hohl — A variety of textured acrylics, along with traditional landscapes, photographs, watercolors and oils, part of the Kenmore Art Society, on display through Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Schofield Residence, 3333 Elmwood Ave., Town of Tonawanda...Read more
Janet M. Coletti to Head M&T Bank Human Resources, Join the Company ...PR Newswire (press release), February 23rd
her Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. She is a member of the Small Business Banking Committee of the Consumer Bankers Association, a member of The National Program Development Committee of WNED and serves on the board of the Roycroft ...Read more
Construction Begins on $40 Million Museum of the American Arts & Crafts in ...ArtfixDaily, February 18th
Highights of the collection include top-tier works by Gustav Stickley and Stickley Brothers, Charles Rohlfs, the artists of Byrdcliffe, Dirk van Erp, Roycroft, William Grueby, the Saturday Evening Girls, Newcomb College, Arthur Wesley Dow, and others...Read more
Décorum: What the Arts & Crafts Conference offers to locals and their homesMountain Xpress, February 18th
The inn itself, built in 1913, still has many of the original Arts and Crafts dressers, desks and rocking chairs in its rooms. The Roycroft stamp, marking the coveted works by an influential reformist craft community, can be found throughout the inn...Read more
Art openings, classes, events in and around AshevilleAsheville Citizen-Times, February 14th
The American Arts and Crafts Movement was championed by figures like Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) at the turn of the 20th Century, but what, if any, of his ideals can be identified in craft today? This presentation will use Roycroft, an artisan community...Read more
February Getaway Guide: Flowers in Philadelphia, arts & crafts in AshevilleAtlanta Magazine, February 5th
The early-20th-century style was embodied by Gustav Stickley's sturdy oak furniture, Roycroft Copper Shop's mica lighting, and William Morris's intricate wallpapers and fabrics. From February 20 to 22, fans can check out antiques, reproductions...Read more