The Arts and Crafts movement was an international movement in the decorative and fine arts that began in Britain and flourished in Europe and North America between about 1880 and 1920, emerging in Japan (the Mingei movement) in the 1920s. It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms, and often used medieval, romantic, or folk styles of decoration. It advocated economic and social reform and was essentially anti-industrial. It had a strong influence on the arts in Europe until it was displaced by Modernism in the 1930s, and its influence continued among craft makers, designers, and town planners long afterwards.
Informal movement in architecture and the decorative arts that championed the unity of the arts, the experience of the individual craftsman, and the qualities of materials and construction in the work itself The Arts and Crafts Movement developed in the second half of the 19th century and lasted well into the 20th, drawing its support from progressive artists, architects and designers, philanthropists, amateurs, and middle-class women seeking work in the home They set up small workshops apart from the world of industry, revived old techniques, and revered the humble household objects of pre-industrial times The movement was strongest in the industrializing countries of northern Europe and in the USA, and it can best be understood as an unfocused reaction against industrialization Although quixotic in its anti-industrialism, it was not unique; indeed it was only one among several late 19th-century reform movements, such as the Garden City movement, vegetarianism, and folksong revivals, that set the Romantic values of nature and folk culture against the artificiality of modern life
The term was first used by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson at a meeting of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887, although the principles and style on which it was based had been developing in England for at least twenty years. It was inspired by the ideas of architect Augustus Pugin, writer John Ruskin, and designer William Morris.
The movement developed earliest and most fully in the British Isles, and spread across the British Empire and to the rest of Europe and North America. It was largely a reaction against the perceived impoverished state of the decorative arts at the time and the conditions in which they were produced.
The movement spread to Ireland, representing an important time for the nation’s cultural development, a visual counterpart to the literary revival of the same time and was a publication of Irish nationalism. The Arts and Crafts use of stained glass was popular in Ireland, with Harry Clarke the best-known artist and also with Evie Hone. The architecture of the style is represented by the Honan Chapel (1916) in Cork in the grounds of University College Cork. Other architects practicing in Ireland included Sir Edwin Lutyens (Heywood House in Co. Laois, Lambay Island and the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin) and Frederick ‘Pa’ Hicks (Malahide Castle estate buildings and round tower). Irish Celtic motifs were popular with the movement in silvercraft, carpet design, book illustrations and hand-carved furniture.
The beginnings of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland were in the stained glass revival of the 1850s, pioneered by James Ballantine (1808–77). His major works included the great west window of Dunfermline Abbey and the scheme for St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh. In Glasgow it was pioneered by Daniel Cottier (1838–91), who had probably studied with Ballantine, and was directly influenced by William Morris, Ford Madox Brown and John Ruskin. His key works included the Baptism of Christ in Paisley Abbey, (c. 1880). His followers included Stephen Adam and his son of the same name. The Glasgow-born designer and theorist Christopher Dresser (1834–1904) was one of the first, and most important, independent designers, a pivotal figure in the Aesthetic Movement and a major contributor to the allied Anglo-Japanese movement. The movement had an “extraordinary flowering” in Scotland where it was represented by the development of the ‘Glasgow Style’ which was based on the talent of the Glasgow School of Art. Celtic revival took hold here, and motifs such as the Glasgow rose became popularised. Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art were to influence others worldwide.
In continental Europe, the revival and preservation of national styles was an important motive of Arts and Crafts designers; for example, in Germany, after unification in 1871 under the encouragement of the Bund für Heimatschutz (1897) and the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk founded in 1898 by Karl Schmidt; and in Hungary Károly Kós revived the vernacular style of Transylvanian building. In central Europe, where several diverse nationalities lived under powerful empires (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia), the discovery of the vernacular was associated with the assertion of national pride and the striving for independence, and, whereas for Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain the ideal style was to be found in the medieval, in central Europe it was sought in remote peasant villages.
Widely exhibited in Europe, the Arts and Crafts style’s simplicity inspired designers like Henry van de Velde and styles such as Art Nouveau, the Dutch De Stijl group, Vienna Secession, and eventually the Bauhaus style. Pevsner regarded the style as a prelude to Modernism, which used simple forms without ornamentation.
The earliest Arts and Crafts activity in continental Europe was in Belgium in about 1890, where the English style inspired artists and architects including can de Velde, Gabriel Van Dievoet, Gustave Serrurier-Bovy and a group known as La Libre Esthétique (Free Aesthetic).
Arts and Crafts products were admired in Austria and Germany in the early 20th century, and under their inspiration design moved rapidly forward while it stagnated in Britain. The Wiener Werkstätte, founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, was influenced by the Arts and Crafts principles of the “unity of the arts” and the hand-made. The Deutscher Werkbund (German Association of Craftsmen) was formed in 1907 as an association of artists, architects, designers, and industrialists to improve the global competitiveness of German businesses and became an important element in the development of modern architecture and industrial design through its advocacy of standardized production. However, its leading members, van de Velde and Hermann Muthesius, had conflicting opinions about standardization. Muthesius believed that it was essential were Germany to become a leading nation in trade and culture. Van de Velde, representing a more traditional Arts and Crafts attitude, believed that artists would forever “protest against the imposition of orders or standardization,” and that “The artist … will never, of his own accord, submit to a discipline which imposes on him a canon or a type.”
In Finland, an idealistic artists’ colony in Helsinki was designed by Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen, who worked in the National Romantic style, akin to the British Gothic Revival.
In Hungary, under the influence of Ruskin and Morris, a group of artists and architects, including Károly Kós, Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch and Ede Toroczkai Wigand, discovered the folk art and vernacular architecture of Transylvania. Many of Kós’s buildings, including those in the Budapest zoo and the Wekerle estate in the same city, show this influence.
In Russia, Viktor Hartmann, Viktor Vasnetsov, Yelena Polenova and other artists associated with Abramtsevo Colony sought to revive the quality of medieval Russian decorative arts quite independently from the movement in Great Britain.
In Iceland, Sölvi Helgason’s work shows Arts and Crafts influence.
In the United States, the Arts and Crafts style initiated a variety of attempts to reinterpret European Arts and Crafts ideals for Americans. These included the “Craftsman”-style architecture, furniture, and other decorative arts such as designs promoted by Gustav Stickley in his magazine, The Craftsman and designs produced on the Roycroft campus as publicized in Elbert Hubbard’s The Fra. Both men used their magazines as a vehicle to promote the goods produced with the Craftsman workshop in Eastwood, NY and Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft campus in East Aurora, NY. A host of imitators of Stickley’s furniture (the designs of which are often mislabelled the “Mission Style”) included three companies established by his brothers.
The terms American Craftsman or Craftsman style are often used to denote the style of architecture, interior design, and decorative arts that prevailed between the dominant eras of Art Nouveau and Art Deco in the USA, or approximately the period from 1910 to 1925. The movement was particularly notable for the professional opportunities it opened up for women as artisans, designers and entrepreneurs who founded and ran, or were employed by, such successful enterprises as the Kalo Shops, Rookwood Pottery, and Tiffany Studios. In Canada, the term Arts and Crafts predominates, but Craftsman is also recognized.
While the Europeans tried to recreate the virtuous crafts being replaced by industrialisation, Americans tried to establish a new type of virtue to replace heroic craft production: well-decorated middle-class homes. They claimed that the simple but refined aesthetics of Arts and Crafts decorative arts would ennoble the new experience of industrial consumerism, making individuals more rational and society more harmonious. The American Arts and Crafts movement was the aesthetic counterpart of its contemporary political philosophy, progressivism. Characteristically, when the Arts and Crafts Society began in October 1897 in Chicago, it was at Hull House, one of the first American settlement houses for social reform.
Arts and Crafts ideals disseminated in America through journal and newspaper writing were supplemented by societies that sponsored lectures. The first was organized in Boston in the late 1890s, when a group of influential architects, designers, and educators determined to bring to America the design reforms begun in Britain by William Morris; they met to organize an exhibition of contemporary craft objects. The first meeting was held on January 4, 1897, at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston to organize an exhibition of contemporary crafts. When craftsmen, consumers, and manufacturers realised the aesthetic and technical potential of the applied arts, the process of design reform in Boston started. Present at this meeting were General Charles Loring, Chairman of the Trustees of the MFA; William Sturgis Bigelow and Denman Ross, collectors, writers and MFA trustees; Ross Turner, painter; Sylvester Baxter, art critic for the Boston Transcript; Howard Baker, A.W. Longfellow Jr.; and Ralph Clipson Sturgis, architect.
The first American Arts and Crafts Exhibition began on April 5, 1897, at Copley Hall, Boston featuring more than 1000 objects made by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women. Some of the advocates of the exhibit were Langford Warren, founder of Harvard’s School of Architecture; Mrs. Richard Morris Hunt; Arthur Astor Carey and Edwin Mead, social reformers; and Will H. Bradley, graphic designer. The success of this exhibition resulted in the incorporation of The Society of Arts and Crafts (SAC), on June 28, 1897, with a mandate to “develop and encourage higher standards in the handicrafts.” The 21 founders claimed to be interested in more than sales, and emphasized encouragement of artists to produce work with the best quality of workmanship and design. This mandate was soon expanded into a credo, possibly written by the SAC’s first president, Charles Eliot Norton, which read:
This Society was incorporated for the purpose of promoting artistic work in all branches of handicraft. It hopes to bring Designers and Workmen into mutually helpful relations, and to encourage workmen to execute designs of their own. It endeavors to stimulate in workmen an appreciation of the dignity and value of good design; to counteract the popular impatience of Law and Form, and the desire for over-ornamentation and specious originality. It will insist upon the necessity of sobriety and restraint, or ordered arrangement, of due regard for the relation between the form of an object and its use, and of harmony and fitness in the decoration put upon it.
Also influential were the Roycroft community initiated by Elbert Hubbard in Buffalo and East Aurora, New York, Joseph Marbella, utopian communities like Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock, New York, and Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, developments such as Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, featuring clusters of bungalow and chateau homes built by Herbert J. Hapgood, and the contemporary studio craft style. Studio pottery—exemplified by the Grueby Faience Company, Newcomb Pottery in New Orleans, Marblehead Pottery, Teco pottery, Overbeck and Rookwood pottery and Mary Chase Perry Stratton’s Pewabic Pottery in Detroit, as well as the art tiles made by Ernest A. Batchelder in Pasadena, California, and idiosyncratic furniture of Charles Rohlfs all demonstrate the influence of Arts and Crafts.
Architecture and Art
The “Prairie School” of Frank Lloyd Wright, George Washington Maher and other architects in Chicago, the Country Day School movement, the bungalow and ultimate bungalow style of houses popularized by Greene and Greene, Julia Morgan, and Bernard Maybeck are some examples of the American Arts and Crafts and American Craftsman style of architecture. Restored and landmark-protected examples are still present in America, especially in California in Berkeley and Pasadena, and the sections of other towns originally developed during the era and not experiencing post-war urban renewal. Mission Revival, Prairie School, and the ‘California bungalow’ styles of residential building remain popular in the United States today.
As theoreticians, educators, and prolific artists in mediums from printmaking to pottery and pastel, two of the most influential figures were Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) on the East Coast and Pedro Joseph de Lemos (1882-1954) in California. Dow, who taught at Columbia University and founded the Ipswich Summer School of Art, published in 1899 his landmark Composition, which distilled into a distinctly American approach the essence of Japanese composition, combining into a decorative harmonious amalgam three elements: simplicity of line, “notan” (the balance of light and dark areas), and symmetry of color. His purpose was to create objects that were finely crafted and beautifully rendered. His student de Lemos, who became head of the San Francisco Art Institute, Director of the Stanford University Museum and Art Gallery, and Editor-in-Chief of the School Arts Magazine, expanded and substantially revised Dow’s ideas in over 150 monographs and articles for art schools in the United States and Britain. Among his many unorthodox teachings was his belief that manufactured products could express “the sublime beauty” and that great insight was to be found in the abstract “design forms” of pre-Columbian civilizations.
The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement is under construction in St. Petersburg, Florida, scheduled to open in 2019.
In Japan, Yanagi Sōetsu, creator of the Mingei movement which promoted folk art from the 1920s onwards, was influenced by the writings of Morris and Ruskin. Like the Arts and Crafts movement in Europe, Mingei sought to preserve traditional crafts in the face of modernising industry.
Many of the leading of the Arts and Crafts movement were trained as architects (e.g. William Morris, A. H. Mackmurdo, C. R. Ashbee, W. R. Lethaby) and it was on building that the movement had its most visible and lasting influence.
Red House, in Bexleyheath, London, designed for Morris in 1859 by architect Philip Webb, exemplifies the early Arts and Crafts style, with its well-proportioned solid forms, wide porches, steep roof, pointed window arches, brick fireplaces and wooden fittings. Webb rejected classical and other revivals of historical styles based on grand buildings, and based his design on British vernacular architecture, expressing the texture of ordinary materials, such as stone and tiles, with an asymmetrical and picturesque building composition.
The London suburb of Bedford Park, built mainly in the 1880s and 1890s, has about 360 Arts and Crafts style houses and was once famous for its Aesthetic residents. Several Almshouses were built in the Arts and Crafts style, for example, Whiteley Village, Surrey, built between 1914 and 1917, with over 280 buildings, and the Dyers Almshouses, Sussex, built between 1939 and 1971. Letchworth Garden City, the first garden city, was inspired by Arts and Crafts ideals. The first houses were designed by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin in the vernacular style popularized by the movement and the town became associated with high-mindedness and simple living. The sandal-making workshop set up by Edward Carpenter moved from Yorkshire to Letchworth Garden City and George Orwell’s jibe about “every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England” going to a socialist conference in Letchworth has become famous.
Red House – Bexleyheath, Kent – 1859
YHA Beer – Youth Hostel – Beer, East Devon
Wightwick Manor – Wolverhampton, England – 1887–93
Standen – East Grinstead, England – 1894
Swedenborgian Church – San Francisco, California – 1895
Blackwell – Lake District, England – 1898
Derwent House – Chislehurst, Kent – 1899
Stoneywell – Ulverscroft, Leicestershire – 1899
West Court, Fishery Road, Maidenhead – 1899
The Arts & Crafts Church (Long Street Methodist Church and School) – Manchester, England – 1900
Spade House – Sandgate, Kent – 1900
Caledonian Estate – Islington, London – 1900–1907
Horniman Museum – Forest Hill, London – 1901
Shaw’s Corner – Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire – 1902
Pierre P. Ferry House – Seattle, Washington – 1903–1906
Winterbourne House – Birmingham, England – 1904
Marston House – San Diego, California – 1905
Edgar Wood Centre – Manchester, England – 1905
Ramsay House – Ellensburg, Washington – 1905
Debenham House – Holland Park, London – 1905-07
Robert R. Blacker House – Pasadena, California – 1907
Gamble House – Pasadena, California – 1908
Oregon Public Library – Oregon, Illinois – 1909
Thorsen House – Berkeley, California – 1909
Rodmarton Manor – Rodmarton, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire – 1909–29
First Church of Christ, Scientist – Berkeley, California – 1910
St. John’s Presbyterian Church – Berkeley, California – 1910
Craftsman Farms – Parsippany, New Jersey – 1911
Whare Ra – Havelock North, New Zealand – 1912
Sutton Garden Suburb – Benhilton, Sutton, London – 1912–14
Asilomar Conference Grounds – Pacific Grove, California – 1913
Honan Chapel – University College Cork, Ireland – c.1916
St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral – Geraldton Western Australia 1916–1938
Bedales School Memorial Library – near Petersfield, Hampshire – 1919–21
Plewlands Avenue (Private houses) Edinburgh – 1920
Nurses’ Memorial Chapel at Christchurch Hospital, New Zealand – 1927
Villa Ruggeri built by Giuseppe Brega – in Pesaro, Italy completed in 1907
Gertrude Jekyll applied Arts and Crafts principles to garden design. She worked with the English architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, for whose projects she created numerous landscapes, and who designed her home Munstead Wood, near Godalming in Surrey. Jekyll created the gardens for Bishopsbarns, the home of York architect Walter Brierley, an exponent of the Arts and Crafts movement and known as the “Lutyens of the North”. The garden for Brierley’s final project, Goddards in York, was the work of George Dillistone, a gardener who worked with Lutyens and Jekyll at Castle Drogo. At Goddards the garden incorporated a number of features that reflected the arts and crafts style of the house, such as the use of hedges and herbaceous borders to divide the garden into a series of outdoor rooms. Another notable Arts and Crafts garden is Hidcote Manor Garden designed by Lawrence Johnston which is also laid out in a series of outdoor rooms and where, like Goddards, the landscaping becomes less formal further away from the house. Other examples of Arts and Crafts gardens include Hestercombe Gardens, Lytes Cary Manor and the gardens of some of the architectural examples of arts and crafts buildings (listed above).
Morris’s ideas were adopted by the New Education Movement in the late 1880s, which incorporated handicraft teaching in schools at Abbotsholme (1889) and Bedales (1892), and his influence has been noted in the social experiments of Dartington Hall during the mid-20th century.
Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain were critical of the government system of art education based on design in the abstract with little teaching of practical craft. This lack of craft training also caused concern in industrial and official circles, and in 1884 a Royal Commission (accepting the advice of William Morris) recommended that art education should pay more attention to the suitability of design to the material in which it was to be executed. The first school to make this change was the Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts, which “led the way in introducing executed design to the teaching of art and design nationally (working in the material for which the design was intended rather than designing on paper). In his external examiner’s report of 1889, Walter Crane praised Birmingham School of Art in that it ‘considered design in relationship to materials and usage.'” Under the direction of Edward Taylor, its headmaster from 1877 to 1903, and with the help of Henry Payne and Joseph Southall, the Birmingham School became a leading Arts-and-Crafts centre.
Other local authority schools also began to introduce more practical teaching of crafts, and by the 1890s Arts and Crafts ideals were being disseminated by members of the Art Workers Guild into art schools throughout the country. Members of the Guild held influential positions: Walter Crane was director of the Manchester School of Art and subsequently the Royal College of Art; F.M. Simpson, Robert Anning Bell and C.J.Allen were respectively professor of architecture, instructor in painting and design, and instructor in sculpture at Liverpool School of Art; Robert Catterson-Smith, the headmaster of the Birmingham Art School from 1902-1920, was also an AWG member; W. R. Lethaby and George Frampton were inspectors and advisors to the London County Council’s (LCC) education board and in 1896, largely as a result of their work, the LCC set up the Central School of Arts and Crafts and made them joint principals. Until the formation of the Bauhaus in Germany, the Central School was regarded as the most progressive art school in Europe. Shortly after its foundation, the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts was set up on Arts and Crafts lines by the local borough council.
As head of the Royal College of Art in 1898, Crane tried to reform it along more practical lines, but resigned after a year, defeated by the bureaucracy of the Board of Education, who then appointed Augustus Spencer to implement his plan. Spencer brought in Lethaby to head its school of design and several members of the Art Workers’ Guild as teachers. Ten years after reform, a committee of inquiry reviewed the RCA and found that it was still not adequately training students for industry. In the debate that followed the publication of the committee’s report, C.R.Ashbee published a highly critical essay, Should We Stop Teaching Art, in which he called for the system of art education to be completely dismantled and for the crafts to be learned in state-subsidised workshops instead. Lewis Foreman Day, an important figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, took a different view in his dissenting report to the committee of inquiry, arguing for greater emphasis on principles of design against the growing orthodoxy of teaching design by direct working in materials. Nevertheless, the Arts and Crafts ethos thoroughly pervaded British art schools and persisted, in the view of the historian of art education, Stuart MacDonald, until after the Second World War.
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