Arts & Crafts: America 1890-1916
America embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement and made it its own. The movement flourished on the East Coast, in the Midwest and in California, and included major figures such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Henry Greene, and Gustav Stickley. Despite its European origins, the movement acquired a particularly American form and expression that reflected the confidence of the relatively young nation. This can be seen especially in a radical new approach to the house and its interior, which remains influential to this day.
Exchanges of ideas between Britain and America were frequent and visible. The work of Ruskin, Morris, Ashbee and Baillie Scott was well known and had a significant influence. But American Arts and Crafts designers also looked to their native landscape and climate, to their own heritage and even to Japan. They took a much more commercial approach to Arts and Crafts, but maintained a strong sense of individuality and national identity in their work.
Gustav Stickley and the East Coast
Arts and Crafts societies and experimental communities, modelled on British prototypes, were established in and around Massachusetts and New York in the early 1890s. Among the most notable initiatives were the Roycroft Shops and the Byrdcliffe Colony, both in New York state, and Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Farms in New Jersey.
Perhaps more than anyone else, Stickley defined the Arts and Crafts Movement as it evolved in America. Although he fully subscribed to Arts and Crafts ideals, his approach was more commercially aware. Stickley sought economic viability as well as moral satisfaction.
He operated as an entrepreneur, designer and furniture manufacturer. In 1898 he founded the Craftsman Workshops in Syracuse, NewYork, for the production of furniture, metalwork and textiles. From 1901 to 1916 he published The Craftsman, an influential magazine in which he illustrated his own work as well as that from Britain, mainland Europe and other parts of America.
Gustav Stickley's magazine, The Craftsman, was one of the most far-reaching publications of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. From 1904 it featured a series of 'Craftsman' homes designed and built by Stickley's Craftsman Workshops. They included models for a range of incomes, from the smallest cottages upwards. Although he thought the country was the best place to live, Stickley's designs could be adapted for suburban use.
Craftsman homes illustrated the ideals of 'honesty, simplicity and usefulness'. Stickley believed that the living room was the heart of the home, a place to nurture family life and a sanctuary for the working man. Its furniture should be simple and harmonise with the woodwork in colour and finish.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Chicago was at the heart of American expansion and economic growth. It provided fertile ground for the development of the Arts and Crafts Movement and became the home of early Arts and Crafts societies and projects. The city became the base for the architects and designers of the Prairie School, one of the most innovative manifestations of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The flat prairie landscape of the Midwest inspired Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries to develop a radical, earth hugging domestic architecture as a contrast to the new city skyscrapers.
Progressive architects and designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright introduced revolutionary changes in domestic design. Designing across all media, they treated both inside and out as a complete work of art. They opened up interiors, banished applied ornament and instead integrated features such as stained glass into spaces defined by the furniture. They also sought to bring nature into their design by using native plants as abstract motifs
Greene & Greene and the American North West
The natural beauty, inviting climate and unique local materials of California encouraged a very individual response to Arts and Crafts ideals. Its distant location meant that Arts and Crafts activity was quite isolated,
which also made for a distinctive approach to design.
Charles and Henry Greene were California's foremost Arts and Crafts architects and the designers of extraordinarily fine bespoke craftsmanship. The Greenes saw the house as a total work of art and created furniture specifically for each room. Their richly coloured and beautifully crafted interiors are notable for the exquisite joinery in sumptuous Californian redwoods and for the subtle play of light through stained-glass windows and doors.
San Francisco was then recovering from the devastating 1906 earthquake. This provided many opportunities for new workshops and furnishing styles, most notably those of the Furniture Shop and the metalworker Dirk van Erp.
This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'International Arts and Crafts', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 17 March - 24 July 2005.