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The Bungalow: American Arts & crafts Homes
by Paul Duchscherer & Douglas Keister


Inside the Bungalow: American Arts & Crafts Interiors
by Paul Duchscherer & Douglas Keister


American Bungalow Style
by Robert Winter & Alexander Vertikoff


A Complex Fate: Gustav Stickley and the Craftsman Movement
by Barry Sanders


Gustav Stickley the Craftsman
by Mary Ann Smith



The Arts & Crafts Movement:
A Short History of a Brief Era

"I know by my own feelings & desires what these men want, what would have saved them from the lowest depth of savagery: employment which would foster their self-respect and win the praise and sympathy of their fellows, and dwellings which they could come to with pleasure, surroundings which would soothe and elevate them; reasonable labour, reasonable rest. There is only one thing that can give them this, and it is art."

—William Morris, on the woes of the Industrial Age

The Arts and Crafts movement in America was brief. From its emergence in 1900, it lasted a scant sixteen years. But in that time, it came to dominate American interiors. And, for once, the country was united by a single, truly American style. If only for that reason, American Arts and Crafts remains an historically important movement.

But it wasn't born in a vacuum. To understand the movement historically, you have to cross back over the Atlantic and glance at what was happening in England about the same time Darwin was beginning to undo Genesis.

After all, if the world wasn't created in seven days, neither was the Arts and Crafts movement.


William Morris, who founded the English Arts and Crafts movement in the mid-1800s as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, was, in a word, obsessive. Indeed, in a career that included socialist lecturing, painting, embroidery, furniture manufacturing, poetry and the occasional trip to Iceland, Morris was perhaps unique in his ability to pursue so many obsessions in such a singular way. (An example of his obsessiveness: in his translations of the Icelandic sagas, he tried to avoid all words which weren't of Anglo-Saxon derivation.) With a different mindset, Morris could have made a brilliant fascist leader, honing in on a single, burning issue and shoving it deep into the red fire of public opinion.

But that wouldn't be Morris. Far from being a Victorian Mussolini, Morris was a gentle-voiced proselytizer who never quite got the trick of public speaking. But his thoughts found other forms, and it is chiefly through his philosophical essays and highly original wallpaper and chintz patterns that his ideas have found longevity.

As for his furniture (manufactured and sold through Morris & Co.), it suffers from a heaviness and moroseness too consciously derived from medieval churches to be appreciated widely today. Only with the emergence of the American movement under Gustav Stickley (1858-1942) do we see forms whose simplicity of design allow them to breathe fresh air nearly a century after they were made. As Nancy Hunt points out, though, we shouldn't be surprised by the American movement's freshness. It was, after all, the precursor of modernism.

"It was mostly a reaction against Victorianism," Hunt says. "And by that I mean mass-produced furniture that had a lot of applied ornaments and had very little integrity. And it was also a reaction to the Industrial Revolution." In this sense, the American movement had clear ties to its British roots.

"You can't separate the two," Hunt points out. "Our style is definitely different and definitely American. But its roots are with the British philosophers of the time period."


Like Morris, Gustav Stickley believed his work should not be viewed merely as furniture design. As Morris had, Stickley believed that salvation from an increasingly industrialized world could be achieved through aesthetically pleasing interiors. In short, he believed that furniture was art, and in art lay salvation. Or, as John Keats had written nearly a century before, "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." Shortly after his designs became popularly successful, Stickley founded The Craftsman, which he used as a platform for philosophical essays as well as more practical articles on interior decoration.

Stickley and his brothers, Leopold (1869-1957) and John George (1871-1921) (who together founded the L. & J.G. Stickley Company) and Charles (ca. 1865-1928) and Albert (1862-1928) (who together founded the Stickley Brothers Company, though Charles later left to produce his own line) weren't the only manufacturers of American Arts and Crafts furnishings, but they were among the best.

According to Hunt, modern collectors generally concede that Gustav's work remains the best, with L. & J.G.'s mature pieces rivaling it; from there the ranking passes to Charles Limbert, whose work had more pronounced English influences, and then to the Stickley Brothers, whose more inferior work was mass-produced in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the then-new capital of cheaply produced furniture.


For a brief period, Arts and Crafts dominated the American scene. By 1916, though, the movement was all but dead. Gustav himself declared bankruptcy on May 20, 1915, after the approach of World War I reduced furniture purchases so much that he could no longer sustain his new, idealistic headquarters, the Craftsman Building in New York. In December 1916, he stopped publishing The Craftsman.

Even if Morris and Stickley's dream of a socialist utopia never came true, though, there designs have found a brief taste of immortality. L. & J.G continued to produce furniture for several more years, though they began to integrate more traditional designs like cherry colonial reproductions into their line. Today, Arts and Crafts furniture is still made under their imprint.

And in recent years, with Arts and Crafts regaining popularity, a cottage industry of individual craftsmen has also emerged. Although purists may reject the new pieces, they do have a clear value: individuals who can't afford original period pieces can still find relatively inexpensive reproductions whose craftsmanship often rivals the originals.

—Article by Doug Childers

Posted April 1, 1999



William Morris

Gustav Stickley





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