The Arts and Crafts Movement (1850-1900) was a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. The development of the steam engine by James Watt in 1765 led to the mechanization of industry, agriculture and transportation and changed the life of the working man in Britain. The cities and towns grew to accommodate the expanding industries and the influx of workers from the countryside looking for employment. However, living standards gradually deteriorated and industrialization left people with a sense that their life had changed for the worst. Many had sacrificed a rural lifestyle ‘in England’s green and pleasant land’ for the sake of a job in the ‘dark Satanic mills’ of the Industrial Revolution. As a result, they lost that feeling of security and belonging which comes from living in smaller communities.
The ‘dark Satanic mills’ of the Industrial Revolution
The members of the Arts and Crafts Movement included artists, architects, designers, craftsmen and writers. They feared that industrialization was destroying the environment in which traditional skills and crafts could prosper, as machine production had taken the pride, skill and design out of the quality of goods being manufactured. They believed that hand crafted objects were superior to those made by machine and that the rural craftsman had a superior lifestyle to those who slaved in the urban mills and factories. They were convinced that the general decline of artistic standards brought on by industrialization was linked to the nation’s social and moral decline.
BEGINNINGS OF THE ARTS & CRAFTS MOVEMENT
Walter CRANE (1845-1915) – Neptune’s Horses, 1893 (oil on canvas)
The Arts & Crafts Movement grew out of several related strands of thought during the mid-19th century. It was first and foremost a response to social changes initiated by the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain and whose ill effects were first evident there. Industrialization moved large numbers of working-class laborers into cities that were ill-prepared to deal with an influx of newcomers, crowding them into miserable ramshackle housing and subjecting them to dangerous, harsh jobs with long hours and low pay. Cities likewise became doused regularly with pollution from a bevy of new factories.
Critics such as the writer John Ruskin and architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin railed against these problems of industrialization. They contrasted its vices with the Gothic era before the Renaissance, which they viewed as an idyllic time period of piety and high moral standards as well as a healthful, green environment. For both Ruskin and Pugin, there was a strong association between the morality of a nation and the form of its architecture, and the Gothic for them symbolized the peak of human development.
INFLUENCE ON ART EDUCATION
Among other noteworthy guilds was the prestigious Art Workers Guild, whose membership included lecturers and principles from the leading art schools. Walter Crane, the principal of the Royal College of Art in 1897-8 and a renowned illustrator of children’s books, was a founding member. The architect and theorist, W. R. Lethaby, the first Professor of Design at the RCA, became the original director and co-founder of the London Central School of Arts and Crafts, the first college to introduce craft workshops to promote Arts and Crafts principles within mainstream art education. This integration of design with art education is one of the great legacies of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
SOCIETIES, COMMUNITIES & EXHIBITIONS
Morris’ success and his emphasis on vernacular and rural imagery inspired many others to create collective associations where groups of artists and artisans collaborated on designs in a wide variety of media. In 1882 Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo founded The Century Guild, a group aimed at preserving handcraft and the authenticity of the artist, whose work included furniture, stained glass, metalwork, decorative painting, and architectural design. The guild gained recognition through several exhibitions throughout the 1880s before disbanding in 1892. Likewise, in 1884 Eglantyne Louisa Jebb founded the Home Arts and Industries Association, which funded schools and organized marketing opportunities for rural communities to sustain them through handcraft cottage industries; within five years it had grown to include 450 classes that employed 1,000 teachers instructing some 5,000 students.
In 1887, the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, which gave the movement its name, was formed in London, with Walter Crane as its first president. It held its first exhibition there in November 1888 in the New Gallery. The aims were to “ignore the distinction between Fine and Decorative art” and to allow the “worker to earn the title of artist.” Dominated by the decorative arts, and bolstered by a strong selection of works by Morris & Co., the first two exhibitions were financial successes. Upon switching to a three-year cycle starting in 1893, the Society’s exhibitions served to keep the Arts & Crafts movement in the public eye and proved to be critical successes into the new century – though by the 1920s persistent organizational problems and the organization’s antipathy towards machine production ultimately doomed its original mission.
ARCHITECTURE & THE DIVERSITY IN MEDIA
In part because the Arts & Crafts constituted a comprehensive philosophy of living as opposed to a distinct aesthetic style, its scope extended to virtually every aspect of the decorative arts, design, and architecture. There were very few Arts & Crafts designers, particularly among architects, whose work did not bridge several different media. Philip Webb, Charles Francis Annesley Voysey, William Lethaby, Charles Robert Ashbee, and Richard Norman Shaw exemplify this holistic trend – furthermore, it is rare to find a progressive architect in Great Britain in the latter half of the 19th century whose career was not touched by the Arts & Crafts.
In architecture the Arts & Crafts movement did not develop into one particular building style, but could be seen in a multitude of strains. The quintessentially Arts-and-Crafts building, however, might be the classic American bungalow – the stout, boxy, single-family dwelling of one or two stories with a prominent porch, distinguished by a hipped roof with wide overhanging eaves supported by thick beams. In both Britain and the United States, the simplicity, unvarnished, and rough-hewn aesthetic of the Arts & Crafts could be seen mixed in with a variety of stylistic preferences – Queen Anne, Eastlake, Tudor Revival, Stick Style, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Gothic Revival being the most prominent. In Britain, the Garden City Movement and company towns such as Port Sunlight often made use of such “hybrid” Arts & Crafts-based styles in their designs for housing.
RELATIONSHIP WITH ART NOUVEAU
One style that in particular shared many theoretical and visual qualities with the Arts & Crafts was Art Nouveau, which emerged in part from the Arts & Crafts in Europe during the late 1880s. Both the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau placed an emphasis on nature and claimed the Gothic style as an inspiration; both spanned the complete breadth of the various branches of the arts, with an emphasis on the decorative arts and architecture and their power to physically reshape the entire human environment; and visually, both styles made use of a rural, homely aesthetic using rough-hewn stone and wood.
It is difficult to fully categorize many designers as belonging to the Arts & Crafts movement or working in the Art Nouveau style. Henry van de Velde, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Will Bradley, and a host of other artists and architects are just a few of those artists variously described as straddling this boundary, which remains rather unclear. Many Art Nouveau artists even freely acknowledged their debt to the writings and philosophy of William Morris. Where the Arts & Crafts emphasized simplicity and saw the machine as deeply problematic, however, Art Nouveau often embraced complexity and new technology, sometimes to the point of disguising the truth of materials for visual effect. Art Nouveau also drew on a much wider stylistic base than the Arts & Crafts, finding inspiration from the Baroque, Romanesque, and the Rococo and even Islamic and East Asian sources along with the Gothic. Its very name of “New Art” spoke to the international attempts to invent a style for the 20th century instead of rejecting the conditions of modern life. As such, Art Nouveau was also less associated than the Arts & Crafts with the power to completely change attitudes and social mores, but rather was often used to embellish and enchant the viewer into a dreamy world of pleasure, sometimes tinged with exoticism.
SPREAD TO THE UNITED STATES
British Arts & Crafts were known in the United States from the 1860s, and their ideas were disseminated freely through newspapers, magazines, and journals throughout the 1880s and 1890s. A key date was 1897, the year the first American Arts & Crafts Exhibition began in April in Boston’s Copley Hall, featuring more than 1000 objects by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women. Its success gave birth to the Society of Arts & Crafts at the end of June, dedicating itself to “develop and encourage higher standards in the handcrafts,” with an emphasis on “the necessity of sobriety and restraint” in design, along with “due regard for the relation between the form of an object and its use.” Charles Eliot Norton, professor of art history at Harvard University, served as the SAC’s first president. Equally as important, that same year at Hull House in Chicago under the auspices of Jane Addams the simply-named Arts & Crafts Society was organized, as an outgrowth of the Progressive Movement, functioning as a tool for teaching new immigrants useful skills to support themselves.
Craftsman House in Parsippany New Jersey, USA – The building first served as an Arts & Crafts School for boys.
Photo by Daniel Case.
Even before then, the collectivist spirit of the Arts & Crafts had struck a vein with ambitious American reformers. In 1895, Elbert Hubbard, a bookish, loquacious former soap salesman who had visited England and drunk deeply from the ideas of William Morris, founded the reform community of craftsmen in East Aurora, New York, called Roycroft. Over the next twenty years, Hubbard’s compound of metalworkers, furniture shops, leatherworkers, and (of course) printers and bookbinders would become one of the most ardent representatives of the movement in America until his death on the Lusitania in May 1915. Similar notable utopian communities centered around the Arts & Crafts sprang up in places such as Rose Valley, Pennsylvania and the Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock, New York. In 1907 the furniture manufacturer Gustav Stickley founded a manual-labor school for boys called Craftsman Farms in Parsippany, New Jersey, as an experimental, immersive Arts & Crafts environment, but it soon turned out to be a financial failure and Stickley ended up moving his family into the buildings instead.
Unlike their counterparts in Britain, many of the American practitioners and advocates of the Arts & Crafts Movement were motivated by a distinctly capitalist drive, viewing the simple aesthetic of the Arts & Crafts as a way to ennoble the new consumerist mass society created by industrialization of the late-19th century with a kind of moral influence that would create a sense of social harmony. Hubbard and Stickley, whose furniture designs were sold both by mail order and through his showroom in New York City, did much to promote this idea – Hubbard through his magazine The Fra and Stickley through his, titled The Craftsman, which eventually gave the Arts & Crafts the popular alternative moniker “Craftsman Style.” Such publications were ostensibly founded with the intention of promoting a simple lifestyle, the honest use of materials in handcraft, and an independent spirit in design and construction for the common man, but their clear purpose was to market the products of their respective publishers. Concomitant with such attitudes, the major figures of the American Arts & Crafts Movement fully embraced the machine as an advantage for mass production and therefore fatter profits, not a hindrance to quality.
Postcard with image of Rookwood factory for Studio Pottery, Cincinnati, Ohio
The commercialization of the Arts & Crafts in the United States might best be seen in the large corporate bodies that manufactured and marketed their crafts in mass quantities, though this aspect has not diminished their value on the collectors’ market even today. Studio pottery operations such as Rookwood, Greuby Faience, Marblehead, Teco, and Overbeck are some of the best-known names in this respect, whose pieces are often known solely by their company monikers, thus diminishing – at least until recently – the identity and credit given to the designers and individual makers and decorators. Such was also initially the case at the for-profit Newcomb Pottery, part of the art school in the eponymous women’s college at Tulane University in New Orleans. Other smaller pottery operations, such as Eagle in Arkansas (producers of Niloak) and Bybee in Kentucky, represent the sometimes highly regional character of Arts & Crafts design. Nonetheless, some individuals’ skills with their own practices, such as the metalworker Dirk van Erp and ceramicist Ernest Batchfelder, both in California, demonstrate the diverse nature of the Arts & Crafts in the United States.
As a reactionary artistic movement that grew specifically out of social commentary and advocated reform, the Arts & Crafts Movement was destined to be tied to politics. Morris himself was the most significant Arts & Crafts figure as a staunch socialist and anti-imperialist, founding the Socialist League in 1884 and advocating worldwide workers’ revolution, giving public lectures around the UK and editing the League’s newspaper, the Commonweal. Morris spent more time in the 1880s as a political activist than he did as a designer, though his reputation as a poet preceded him during his lifetime, which at least in part explains why his obituaries from 1896 barely mentioned his political views. Many of Morris’ fellow artists, such as William Lethaby and Walter Crane, were also prominent socialists.
While they admired and promoted Morris’ desire to restore joy to both artistic and manual labor, American Arts & Crafts adherents largely ignored or rejected Morris’ political views. Hubbard and Stickley, for example, made no secret of their capitalist ambitions, and marketed their work expressly to a growing middle-class audience as a complement to, not a reaction against, the economic system wrought by industrialization. Hubbard’s professed praise of Morris, Ruskin, Leo Tolstoy, and others, which by the 1910s had evolved into an ardent defense of free enterprise and American ingenuity, earned him much criticism for “selling out.” The Movement in the United States was also equivocal on gender issues: while it counted many women among its practitioners and advocates, including a few prominent ones such as Jane Addams and the architect Julia Morgan, few women Arts & Crafts artists received significant recognition during their lifetimes, and some were even limited to the type of labor that they were allowed to perform in the creative process. At the Newcomb Pottery in New Orleans, specifically dedicated to female artistic education, only the male potter (usually Joseph Meyer) was permitted to throw the vessels that the women students painted.
LATER DEVELOPMENTS – AFTER THE ARTS & CRAFTS MOVEMENT
Particularly in the United States, the Arts & Crafts Movement is known by several other names, the most prominent being the Craftsman Style, popularized by Gustav Stickley (and, by extension the furniture produced by his brothers’ rival furniture firms), as advertised in his magazine The Craftsman, published between 1901 and 1916. “American Craftsman” is often colloquially used for bungalows and related Arts-and-Crafts-inspired houses. The term “Mission Style” or “Mission furniture” also remains frequently used, originally meant to describe a chair made by A.J. Forbes in 1894 for San Francisco’s Swedenborgian Church, but popularized in 1898 by Joseph McHugh, a New York furniture manufacturer, in reference to the simple furnishings of Spanish missions in California. Often considerable overlap exists between a Spanish Colonial aesthetic and the Arts & Crafts, particularly in the American West. On the other hand, it should be noted that the colloquial use of the term “Arts & Crafts” in reference to personal hobby-centered activities and retailing bears no relationship to the formal Arts & Crafts Movement.
DECLINE & DISSEMINATION
Several factors contributed to the Arts & Crafts movement‘s demise in the 20th century. Fundamental to its decline was the inherent problem of handcraft – which is labor-intensive – to be easily produced in great quantities and cheaply enough to reach a mass audience. Morris was never able to solve this paradox, since his goal was to create a democratic art for the masses, and as time went on, he grumbled frequently that his firm catered to wealthy clients almost exclusively. The problems were not unique to his company, as many other Arts & Crafts practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic were forced to adopt machine production, often with a decrease in quality in order to stay afloat, and several simply went out of business. Many cooperative art colonies, particularly in the USA, discovered that such a collective enterprise built on handcraft was no longer sustainable on a long-term basis. Finally, like many other movements, the Arts & Crafts fell victim to changing tastes: at the dawn of the new century, a newfound respect for a traditional Neoclassicism emerged – the Edwardian Baroque Revival in Britain and the City Beautiful Movement in the USA – both of which largely spelled the end of the Arts & Crafts Movement as a mainstream phenomenon after World War I.
Pockets of the Arts & Crafts Movement managed to survive among individuals and collective artistic enterprises well into the middle of the 20th century. The Eagle Pottery that produced Bybee potteries in the American South enjoyed their best years during the 1930s, and the Newcomb College and Teco potteries continued production into the early 1940s. The Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society still exists in modified form as the Society of Designer Craftsmen and holds periodic exhibitions. As with many movements of design and architecture – and even more so than most – the Arts & Crafts aesthetic continues to influence cheap, highly commercialized lines of products – particularly using faux and synthetic materials – frequently marketed today in department stores and by other retailers.
The notion of craft and the visibility of the artist’s hand as a central tenet of creative production, as the Arts & Crafts Movement encouraged, proved inspirational for many different artists, designers, and collective movements in Europe and North America, often at the same time as the Arts & Crafts itself flourished. In Scotland, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School are sometimes grouped in with other Arts & Crafts designers. Many proponents of Art Nouveau cited William Morris as a major influence on their work, and the movement was especially admired in Austria and Germany, where design schools based in handcraft, artists’ colonies like that at Darmstadt, and planned garden cities echoed the tenets of the Arts & Crafts and claimed it as their direct ancestor. Such was the case with the Bauhaus as founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, which perhaps went further and exhibited distinctly socialist tendencies that forced the school to relocate multiple times before its closure in 1933.
ARTS & CRAFTS DESIGNERS
William MORRIS (1834–1896)
William Morris was a leading member of the Arts and Crafts Movement. He is best known for his pattern designs, particularly on fabrics and wallpapers. His vision in linking art to industry by applying the values of fine art to the production of commercial design was a key stage in the evolution of design as we know it today.
William Morris was an artist, designer, printer, typographer, bookbinder, craftsman, poet, writer and champion of socialist ideals. He believed that a designer should have a working knowledge of any media that he used and as a result he spent a lot of time teaching himself a wide variety of techniques. Like many designers of his time, Morris was skilled in a wide range of arts and crafts. For example, although he is famous for his wallpaper designs, he also founded the Kelmscott Press which published high quality hand bound books and was very influential in the revival of the private press.
The creative approach that William Morris employed in his designs was revealed in a lecture from 1874: ‘first, diligent study of Nature and secondly, study of the work of the ages of Art’.
Morris felt that the ‘diligent study of Nature’ was important, as nature was the perfect example of God’s design. He saw this as the spiritual antidote to the decline in social, moral and artistic standards during the Industrial Revolution.
Likewise, the ‘study of the work of the ages of Art’, a reference to the appreciation of art history, was equally important as Morris encouraged artists to look to the past for their inspiration believing that the art of his own age was inferior. Morris‘ solution was for a return to the values of the Gothic art of the middle Ages, where artists and craftsmen had worked together with a common purpose: to glorify God through the practice of their skills. The model for this solution was the medieval crafts guilds which he saw as a type of socialist brotherhood where everybody fulfilled themselves according to their level of ability. Morris felt that this would enhance the quality of life for all, and that artistic activity itself would be seen as a force for good in society.
The medieval crafts guilds were groups of artists, architects, and craftsmen who formed an alliance to maintain high standards of workmanship, regulate trade and competition, and protect the secrets of their crafts. The guilds were usually composed of smaller workshops of associated crafts from the same town who banded together into larger groups for their own protection and prosperity. They operated on a Master, Journeyman and Apprentice system where the master would take on apprentices to train them in the skills of his craft. The apprentices were ‘bound’ to work for free for that master for a period of around five to nine years. In return, the master would look after their welfare and education in the skills of his craft until they graduated as journeymen. As journeymen, they were not only paid for their work but also free to go and work for other masters. In time, if a journeyman demonstrated outstanding skill in his craft, he could advance in the guild to the position of master and take on his own apprentices.
Morris was one of the great pattern designers. His classic designs are still commercially available as wallpapers and textiles. His patterns are inspired by his intimate knowledge of natural forms discovered through drawing and stylized through his detailed knowledge of historical styles. They were usually titled with the names of the flowers that they depicted such as ‘Chrysanthemum’, ‘Jasmine’, ‘Acanthus’, and ‘Sunflower’. In effect, Morris took the natural forms that he found outside in the woods and meadows and used them to decorate the inside of our homes.
His wallpaper designs were echoed in his textile, tapestry and carpet designs. Their images are similar, only simplified due to the limitations of a coarser medium.
Gustav STICKLEY (1858-1942)
Gustav Stickley (March 9, 1858 – April 21, 1942) was an American furniture manufacturer, design leader, publisher and the chief proselytizer for the American Craftsman style, an extension of the British Arts and Crafts movement.
One of eleven children of German émigrés Leopold and Barbara Schlager Stoeckel, Gustav Stickley was born Gustavus Stoeckel on March 9, 1858, in Osceola, Wisconsin. The eldest surviving son, Stickley experienced the rigors of life growing up on a small Midwestern farm, forgoing his formal education in 1870 to continue work in his father’s field of stonemasonry and help support his struggling family. By early 1876, Stickley’s mother and siblings moved to Brandt, Pennsylvania, where Gustav worked in his uncle’s chair factory – his first formal training in the furniture industry.
Stickley founded his furniture company, the Gustave Stickley Company – Craftsman Workshops, with his brother Leopold in upstate New York in 1898. Stickley’s company was highly successful and eventually became a national enterprise with retail stores in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC. Influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement and European Art Nouveau, Stickley advocated the creation of a distinctive American style that would integrate furnishings, architecture, handicrafts, and principles of harmonious living; he believed that well-designed furnishings could help “make life better and truer by its perfect simplicity.”
Frederic GOUDY (1865-1947)
Frederic Goudy was an American printer and typographer who designed more than 100 typefaces that are considered outstanding for their lasting strength and beauty. To see the master at work, you may view this rare silent film from the 1930s that shows Frederic Goudy creating his typeface Goudy Saks:
“The Creation of a Printing Type From The Design to The Print”. Goudy fans will enjoy watching the master at work, but more importantly, this is a document of his type-making process—from the original drawings in pencil and ink, through the engraving of the working pattern and the matrix to the casting and proofing.
Goudy was not always a type designer. “At 40, this short, plump, pinkish, and puckish gentleman kept books for a Chicago realtor, and considered himself a failure. During the next 36 years, starting almost from scratch at an age when most men are permanently set in their chosen vocations, he cut 113 fonts of type, thereby creating more usable faces than did the seven greatest inventors of type and books, from Gutenberg to Garamond.”
Goudy‘s career was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and the growth of fine book printing in the United States. At a time when printing types had become quite mechanical and geometric under the influence of Didone designs such as Bodoni, Goudy spent his career developing old-style serifs often influenced by the printing of the Italian Renaissance and calligraphy, with a characteristic warmth and irregularity. His neighbour, Eric Sloane, recalled that he also took inspiration from hand-painted signs. In contrast to his great contemporary Morris Fuller Benton, he generally avoided sans-serif designs, though he did create the nearly sans-serif Copperplate Gothic, inspired by engraved letters, early in his career and a few others later. As a result, many of his designs may look quite similar to modern readers. He also developed a number of typefaces influenced by blackletter medieval manuscripts, illuminated manuscript capitals and Roman capitals engraved in stone. Some of his most famous designs such as Copperplate Gothic and Goudy Stout are unusual deviations from his normal style. His sans-serif series, Goudy Sans, adopts an eccentric humanist style with a calligraphic italic. Quite unlike most sans-serif types of the period, it was unpopular in his lifetime but revived several times since.
As an independent artist and consultant, Goudy needed to undertake a large range of commissions to survive, and sought patronage from companies who would commission a typeface for their own printing and advertising. This led to him producing a large range of designs on commission, and promoting his career through talks and teaching. As a result, many of his designs may look quite similar to modern readers. His career was aided by the new pantograph engraving technology, which made it easier to rapidly cut the matrices used as moulds to form metal type. This was a considerable advance on the traditional method of cutting punches manually at the size of the letter to be printed, which would be stamped into metal to form the matrix. An additional boon to his career was the new hot metal typesetting technology of the period which created increasing availability and demand for new fonts.
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