The Arts and Crafts Movement revived traditional artistic craftsmanship with themes of simplicity, honesty, function, harmony, nature and social reform.
The movement promoted moral and social health through quality of architecture and design executed by skilled creative workers, and was a revolt against the poor quality of industrialized mass production.
The Bristh Arts and Crafts Movement
In October of 1888, a small group of English philosophers, artists and architects established the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, and thus named a maturing movement that would spread throughout England, Europe and America over the next few decades and effectively unite social reform, architecture, art and craftsmanship.
The Society exhibited at New Gallery in London during October and November of 1888, displaying tapestries, wallpapers, tiles, stained glass and other decorative arts.
The crux of the Society’s mission was, as Walter Crane wrote in the Exhibition catalog, to “turn our artists into craftsmen and craftsmen into artists.” Crane was an illustrator and designer and the Society’s founding President.
The craftsman style ethics of the movement were based on the mid-1800s writings of social thinker John Ruskin, an artist and prominent English art critic.
His book The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and trilogy The Stones of Venice (1851-53) emphasized nature, art and society, and attacked division of labor and industrial capitalism, ideals summarized succinctly in his own words from the second volume of the trilogy:
“Now it is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity.”
Ruskins writings also predicted social issues concerning environmentalism, sustainability and craftsmanship.
Concerned that people were being numbed by thoughtless consumption of mass produced objects and lost to the beauty and spirituality of handcrafting from natural materials, Ruskin appealed for a revival of traditional craftsmanship.
William Morris, often called the father of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, was a Ruskin admirer, a socialist and an artist skilled at a variety of crafts.
He took Arts and Crafts style ideals to a more general level, calling for social and economic reform through an integration of labor and art in society that would bring beauty as well as affordability to everyday objects and advance virtues such as simplicity, utility, honesty and nature.
Morris’ belief that architecture and decorative arts should be simple, functional, constructed of local materials, and, above all, beautiful is summed up best in his own words:
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
By the late 19th century the Arts and Crafts ideas and convictions of William Morris were carrying to and blooming in America.
The American Arts and Crafts Movement
If William Morris was the father of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Gustav Stickley (1858-1942), a furniture manufacturer in New York, was the disciple who raised the banner in the United States. Stickley advocated Morris’ ideas in his magazine, The Craftsman, which he launched in 1901.
The magazine, published 1901-1916, offered idealistic articles on the theories of the Craftsman Style and included simple Craftsman style house plans and bungalow plans.
Stickley urged readers to build homes and craft furniture with their own hands using local materials, and he sold house plans, furniture and household objects by catalog.
The English antagonism toward industrialization was not as evident in America, where the machine was not an enemy but a tool with which to improve life, to reduce drudgery and produce simple, aesthetic, affordable homes and objects that were both decorative and useful.
In 1901, while Charles Robert Ashbee, who was invited from England, toured America professing the evils of machinery, Frank Lloyd Wright was addressing the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society on “The Art and Craft of the Machine,” taking issue with the English distrust of machines.
By the early 20th century there was a widespread popularity of Craftsman style homes and bungalows style homes all across America. The public had been educated and their household tastes improved.
In California, Charles Sumner Greene and his brother, Henry Mather Greene, took bungalow architecture to a heightened level of craftsmanship.
The Gamble House, in Pasadena, built for David B. Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble Company, is the most famous of the Greene and Green ultimate bungalows.
A neighborhood of more than 800 homes built 1900-1930 in Pasadena, California and aptly named Bungalow Heaven exemplifies the American Craftsman bungalow. The area became a historic landmark district in 1989 and historic home tours are now conducted annually.
The Arts and Crafts Movement and the Craftsman Style met many cities spanning the United States including, but not limited to, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Dallas and Washington.
Ideals from the Arts and Crafts Movement
The ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement are aesthetically expressed, in the past and present, in beautifully handcrafted household objects, useful and uncluttered home decor, homes and landscapes built with local materials, and home environments blended with nature.
The truth and beauty in these simple ideals can be an inspiration in today’s busy and often crazy world. Here are a few Craftsman Style ideals for you to enjoy and use as you see fit:
- simple, refined aesthetics (beauty)
- simple, functional design (utility)
- living simply
- social reform (individuals more rational; society more harmonious)
- the virtue of a well decorated middle class home
- handcrafted objects
- high quality craftsmanship
- the joy of working and crafting with one’s own hands
- creating objects well designed and affordable to all
- creating harmony with nature
- using and sustaining natural materials
- maintaining a sense of space and environment
- staying spiritually connected to home and nature
- creating space for inner peace away from jobs and factories
The Arts and Crafts Movement Designers
- John Ruskin (1819-1900)
- William Morris (1834-1896)
- Walter Crane (1845-1915)
- Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1854-1923)
- Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942)
- Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)
- Charles Comfort Tiffany (1829–1907)
- Charles Limbert (1854-1923)
- Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)
- Gustav Stickley (1858-1942)
- Charles Fletcher Lummis (1859-1928)
- Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
- Dard Hunter (1883–1966)