The Arts & Crafts movement began as a British aesthetic movement but quickly made its way to the United States in the 19thcentury. The movement was at its height in Britain between 1880 and 1910, then traveled and became popular in the United States between 1910 and 1920. The ideals behind the movement demonized the Industrial Revolution for being the source of repetitive and mundane production. The Arts & Crafts movement sought to return to handcraft, where items like furniture were simple and authentic, unlike ornate construction of the Victoria Era. This movement was inspired by the writings of John Ruskin, who romanticized the work of craftsmen as something to take pride in.
John Ruskin's influence on the Arts & Crafts movement derived from his book "Unto This Last," which was inspired by Christian socialism. His book attacked laissez faire because he felt it did not acknowledge the complexities of human desires and motivation and the State should intervene and favor these higher values. Ruskin's ideals regarding the "division of labour" were especially influential on the Arts & Crafts founder, William Morris. Ruskin believed that unequal labor distribution deeply affected the poor emotionally. By being treated as tools working monotonously instead of humans with creativity, the poor were unsatisfied and their hate towards the rich grew.
In the 1800's, William Morris was an influential English writer, a socialist reformer, an artist, a printer, and designer. Morris hoped to revive tapestry weaving as a fine art, along with the hand printing of books, furniture-making and other crafts. In 1861, he founded Morris & Co., which was made up of decorators, architects, and artists. In the 1860's, Morris decided to focus on the decorative arts. His designing career began when he decorated the Red House in Bexleyheath, which was built for him by architect, Phillip Web. This successful venture led to the formation of the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later renamed Morris & Co.), where they created furniture, carvings, fabric, tapestries, stained glass, and wallpaper. Inspired by Ruskin, they created products that didn't undermine the skill of the craftsman.
In the late 1890's, the Arts & Crafts movement made its way to America. The 1896 death of William Morris signaled the end of the Arts & Crafts movement in England but indicated the beginning of the movement in America. A meeting was held in Boston where influential architects, designers, and educators gathered and were determined to bring over the design reform set forth by William Morris in Britain. In the first Arts & Crafts exhibition in 1897, craftsmen, consumers, and manufacturers realized this movement's potential and soon embraced it, beginning in Boston. The next year, several craftsman guilds and societies sprung up and also in 1898, Gustav Stickley founded Gustav Stickley & Co. in Syracuse, New York. It was his simple, geometric designs that defined the American Arts & Crafts movement.
Stickley was a firm believer in the movement's ideals and he expressed his dedication with furniture and home designs. In 1901, he began to showcase his designs and the ideals of the movement through the publishing of The Craftsman magazine, which ran from October 1901 to December 1916. His publication spread the philosophy of the English Arts & Crafts movement but eventually his writing evolved to reflect the voice of the American movement. His first issue of The Craftsman was devoted to William Morris and the second to John Ruskin. He wanted to spread his beliefs of self-reliance and the importance of the home, so his magazine also including tips on gardening, instructions for working with ceramics, metal, leather, textiles and other media to keep readers productive even in their leisure time. Many refer to the Arts & Crafts movement as the Craftsman movement, mainly because of the influence of Stickley's publication.
As America evolved from farm living to city life, many people found that the Craftsman style reflected a rural country life that few people experienced. Nevertheless, work from big-name designers like Stickley was still prized and very expensive at the time. They were still able to set trends that other mass-producers could copy. Sears Robuck & Co. soon had their own versions of Craftsman furniture and people of all economic backgrounds were able to own a piece of the lifestyle. By 1915, the trend was dying down and coupled with social changes caused by the eventual entry into WWI, Americans had to deal with reality instead of their dream homes. Even Stickley was forced out of business; he stopped publishing The Craftsman in 1916 and declared bankruptcy in 1917. The styles that followed included Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style based on flat Midwestern landscape and European Modernism.
While the Arts & Crafts movement may have ended, its design effects are still obvious in many homes worldwide. It was a movement that can't be ignored and the idealism, beauty, and simplicity remain as inspiring now as it did in the past.