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The Arts and Crafts Movement in America
by Mary Dutton Boehm
The American Arts and Crafts movement was in its heyday from 1900 to 1916 and sought to reform society through design. From architecture and furniture, to metalwork, pottery, and textiles, the movement had answers for all the necessities of everyday life. People were improved by living in surroundings stripped of Victorian clutter and dishonest "revival styles" such as Elizabethan, Gothic, Rococo, Neo-Grec, and Pompeiian. It drew inspiration from both the English Arts and Crafts movement and the earlier Aesthetic movement.
The British design reform movement was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. In the 1830's, the first use of the steam engine to run tools made possible the manufacture of more goods. Design critics, however, felt that the use of machinery not only contributed to bad design but also diminished the worker's satisfaction in his job.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 made the British aware of the design deficiencies of their manufactures. Several critics proposed solutions to these problems. A.W.N. Pugin drew upon Gothic sources to improve Victorian design; he believed "there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or property [and] . . . all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building."1 American arts and crafts designers copied Pugin's interest in honest construction.
The art critic John Ruskin decried the use of machinery in manufacturing. He wrote that, "all cast and machine work is bad; as work. . it is dishonest." The designs had to be "honest" and true to the material used. Ruskin reacted negatively to "naturalistic" high Victorian design where a silver table centerpiece might be a camel or a palm tree at an oasis. Design reform had moral overtones, for the worker who labored to manufacture an object would become a better man if his work gave him pleasure.2
William Morris, the well-known English author, attempted to reform society through craftsmanship. In 1861, in league with several artists, he founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co., which created furniture, metalwork, printed chintzes, embroidery, wallpaper, stained glass, and painted tiles. After 1875, when the firm was reorganized as Morris and Co., it began to produce tapestry and carpets. By the 1880's, Morris began to realize the essential paradox of the English arts and crafts movement. While the furniture design was intended to provide moral uplift for all classes, only the rich could afford the labor intensive hand-painted furniture his firm made. Disillusioned, Morris retired from the furniture business and worked to encourage the spread of Socialism.3
Other organizations also promoted the Arts and Crafts Movement. For example, the Art Workers' Guild, an organization of architects, painters, and designers, was founded in London in 1884. The first official use of "the term "Arts and Crafts" came when the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society displayed over 500 objects at an 1888 display. The Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, founded in 1897, was the first of several American organizations that promoted the arts and crafts credo.4
The Centennial Exposition, held in Philadelphia in 1876, made Americans aware of their shortcomings in design manufacture. One remedy was to make arts and crafts more universal by encouraging amateurs to create crafts. In Cincinnati, for example, socially prominent women such as Mary Louise McLaughlin engaged in overglaze decoration of ceramic pieces at the Cincinnati School of Art. Some of these works were sent to the Centennial Exposition. At the Exposition, the women saw Oriental pottery and French barbotine ware ornamented with an underglaze decoration made from colored slips.5
By 1879, McLaughlin started the Women's Pottery Club. Maria Longworth Nichols, daughter of a prominent Cincinnati family, did not receive an invitation to join the organization, however. Piqued at the supposed snub, she formed Rockwood Pottery in 1880 which proved to be a great success. The following year, Nichols hired Clara Chipman Newton to serve as administrator and Albert R. Valentien as the first professional decorator.6 In 1889, Mrs. Nichols turned over the pottery to William Taylor, the man who had previously managed the firm. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Rockwood standardized a smooth, highgloss, brownish-golden glaze over even color transitions. By the early twentieth century, the Rookwood factory followed the new trend of mat glazes created by William H. Grueby for his pottery.7
Women also played a major role in another arts and crafts venture: Newcomb College pottery. This firm started in 1895 at Newcomb College, the sister school to Tulane University in New Orleans. Unlike the upper class women of Cincinnati, Newcomb women became interested in the decorative arts because it provided a source of income in a world where their options were limited."8
One characteristic of the Arts and Crafts period was the movement of craftsmen between firms. For example, Albert Valentien, the first professional designer for Rockwood, first visited San Diego in 1903, when he pursued his interest in painting wildflowers. Albert and his wife Anna, who had also worked for Rockwood for over twenty years, left the company in 1905. They sold their home in Cincinnati and moved to San Diego because Albert Valentien said, "We could think of nothing but California and its vast amount of Wild Flowers and lovely climate."9 That year, Albert Valentien was pleased when Ellen Browning Scripps unexpectedly commissioned him to paint the wildflowers of California with the intention of publishing the set when completed. Scripps eventually decided against publishing his works, claiming that it would be too expensive to do so. He and his wife did not totally abandon the ceramic field, however, establishing the Valentien pottery in 1911. The pottery was funded by banker Joseph W. Sefton Jr., who was on the committee for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The life span of the Valentien pottery was short because the neighbors objected to the smoke from the kiln and it closed in 1913. Sefton might have conceived of the Valentien pottery as a source of tiles for the exposition buildings; however, the firm was too small to produce the tiles rapidly enough. Another firm, California China Products Company of National City executed the tiles for the California Building in Balboa Park and the interior of the Santa Fe Railroad depot. The output of the factory was not limited to tiles; it included utilitarian goods such as high voltage insulators, as well as porcelain tableware, "Belleek Artware", and Rockingham Ware.11
The Arts and Crafts movement was not limited to ceramics. American manufacturers began creating arts and crafts furniture, also known as Mission Style furniture. Unlike the British manufacturers, the Americans, through techniques of mass production, were able to make their goods affordable to the middle class. Two of the manufacturers, Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley, played a major role in promoting the Arts and Crafts ideals.
Hubbard, who had made his fortune as salesman and partner in the Larkin Soap Company, claimed to have met William Morris. He began with a publishing company in 1895 under the imprint of Roycroft, a name derived from the seventeenth century English book-binders. As the business expanded, he added a bindery and a leather working shop. By 1901, Roycroft began manufacturing a line of furniture in the Arts and Crafts style. Although he was not a designer, Hubbard used his business acumen to create a demand for his books, furniture, and small metalwork. The company survived his death on the Lusitania in 1915 but could not survive the change in taste in the 1920s or the Great Depression. By 1938, the company was sold at auction.13*
Like Elbert Hubbard, Gustav Stickley, created a veritable empire of Arts and Crafts goods with a strong philosophical underpining. Unlike Hubbard, Stickley possessed a technical background in furniture manufacturing. Trained by his father to be a stonemason, Stickley learned the furniture manufacturing trade from his uncle.14 By 1898, he founded the Gustav Stickley Company in Eastwood, New York, near Syracuse. Stickley also promulgated his Arts and Crafts ideals in The Craftsman, a magazine he started in 1901. The first two issues of The Craftsman paid homage to Morris and Ruskin.15
Stickley introduced his new designs at the Grand Rapids Furniture Fair in the summer of 1900. His firm, United Crafts, soon changed to Craftsman Workshops. He hoped to create a unified design by organizing "a guild of cabinetmakers, metal and leather workers, formed for the production of household furnishing" similar to that of Morris and Co. in England. The furniture manufactured at the Craftsman Workshop was sold not only at the factory and Craftsman stores in Boston and Washington, but also at Arts and Crafts exhibitions as well as over fifty major retailers located throughout the country.16
Architecture, too, was part of the Arts and Crafts movement. From the exquisite oriental influenced designs of the Greene and Greene houses in Pasadena to the mass marketed Sears & Roebuck mail order bungalows, there was a craftsman style house for every budget. The construction was honest featuring few frills, a love of wood, and inspiration from nature. Pergolas, sleeping porches, and terraces helped erase the boundaries between the house and the garden surrounding it. Because the design of the house was to encourage a closely knit family, fireplaces and dining rooms were important features. A small room called an inglenook provided a retreat next to the fireplace where the family could gather. One promoter of bungalows wrote in 1911, "A bungalow without a fireplace would be almost as much an anomaly as a garden without flowers."17
In California, the Arts and Crafts house was interpreted by many architects, including Greene & Greene in Pasadena, Bernard Maybeck in Berkeley, and Irving Gill and Richard Requa in San Diego. The California style drew inspiration not only from oriental designs but also from the California missions and other early adobe buildings. Irving Gill's style evolved from the more traditional Arts and Crafts style of the Marston House to a style incorporating the massive walls and arcades of the Mission style as exemplified by the La Jolla Woman's Club. Gill envisioned a "simple cube house with creamy walls, sheer and plain, rising boldly into the sky unrelieved by cornices or overhang of roof, unornamented save for the vines."18
The Arts and Crafts movement came to San Diego not only in the bungalows and houses designed by architects but also by the craftsmen who created California China Products Company tiles, Valentien pottery, and Markham pottery, which was distributed by Orr's Gallery. Anna Valentien also made hammered copper metalware and jewelry for J. Jessop & Sons.19 Local stores served as outlets for nationally distributed Arts and Crafts goods. The housewife seeking Roycroft wares would find them only at J. Jessop & Sons, Inc., Jewelers, Stationers.20 Marston's Department Store advertised that they were the sole agent for "Genuine Craftsman Furniture."21 Teco Pottery could be purchased at Alfred Stahel & Son,22 while Rockwood Pottery was available at the studio of photographer Harold A. Taylor.23
The Arts and Crafts movement came to an end by the beginning of World War I. The death of Elbert Hubbard, the bankruptcy of Gustav Stickley in 1916 when his expansion, which included the Craftsman Farms, an office building /showroom, and other enterprises proved to be financially unsound, as well as the change in national taste, were the undoing of this style. Examples of both decorative arts and architecture remain, however, to remind us of the quest for designs that were a joy to produce and a joy to use.
The "less is more" philosophy of the Arts & Crafts Movement is evident in this illustration of a dining room from the May, 1903, issue of The Craftsman.
Magazines such as The Craftsman, published by Gustav Stickley, and The Fra, published by Elbert Hubbard, helped disseminate the ideals of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
Numerous American art pottery companies helped fill the demand for decorative objects to compliment the Arts & Crafts interior.
Marston's department store ad"
Marston's department store advertised that it was the "sole agent" for Gustav Stickely's Craftsman furniture in the San Diego Union of 25 November, 1912.
Markham Pottery moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to National City in 1913, and received a gold medal at the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego in 1915.
Limbert's in Grand Rapids, Michigan"
Limbert's was one of several companies in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that produced Arts & Crafts furniture.
1. Quoted in Wendy Kaplan, "The Lamp of British Precedent: An Introduction to the Arts and Crafts Movement," in Wendy Kaplan, "The Art that is Life": The Arts & Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920 (Boston, 1987), 52.
2. Quoted in Kaplan, "The Lamp of British Precedent," 52.
3. Ibid., 55.
4. Ibid., 56.
5. Ellen Paul Denker and Bert Randall Denker, "Mary Louise McLaughlin," in Kaplan, Arts & Crafts Movement, 249.
6. Martin Eidelberg, "Art Pottery," in Robert Judson Clark, ed., The Arts & Crafts Movement in America, 1876-1916 (Princeton, 1972), 119.
7. Ibid., 136.
8. Ibid., 144.
9. Bruce Kamerling, "Anna and Albert Valentien: The Arts and Crafts Movement in San Diego," Journal of San Diego History 24 (Summer 1978), 345-47.
10. Ibid., 347, 51, 57, 60.
11. "California China Products Company," in San Diego and the American Art Pottery Movement, San Diego History Center, brochure produced in conjunction with the "New Vistas Exhibit," from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Service.
12. Robert Judson Clark, "The Eastern Seaboard," in Clark, ed., Arts and Crafts Movement, 45.
13. Ibid., 38.
14. Kaplan, "The Lamp of British Precedent," 57.
15. Quoted in Catherine Zusy, "Gustav Stickley and the Craftsman Workshops," in Kaplan, Arts & Crafts Movement, 243.
16. Richard Guy Wilson, "American Arts and Crafts Architecture: Radical though Dedicated to the Cause Conservative," in Kaplan, Arts & Crafts Movement, 102-05, quoting, 103.
17. Quoted in Ibid., 124-25.
18. Kamerling, "Anna and Albert Valentien," 349.
19. Charles F. Hamilton, Roycroft Collections, (San Diego and New York, 1980), 66.
20. San Diego Union, 25 November 1912, 11:2-7.
21. An example of Teco Pottery in the San Diego History Center Curatorial Department has a Stahel paper label.
22. Advertisement in Beatrice de Lack Krombach (Leslie Ray), ed., Cookbook of San Diego, (San Diego, 1917), illustrated by Mildred Stillman Gill.
[* ed. note: footnotes appear to be off by one number, starting with number 12].