The Arts and Crafts Movement
A revival lasting from 1861 to 1914 to bring handcrafts to the forefront in a period when industry and mechanization was gaining cultural dominance.
The Arts and Crafts Movement began in England in the last part of the 19th century and in many countries including America, resulted in the dignifying of the private home as a place of creative expression and enjoyment of the freedoms associated with that expression.
The leader was English aristocrat William Morris who asserted that “a work of utility might be a work of art, if we cared to make it so.” Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud inadvertently gave voice to the movement with his comment, “a chair is rarely just a chair.”
For Morris, the motivation to rebel came from his anger at the harmful effects of the Industrial Revolution on people’s lives. He observed that not only was their health being ruined by air pollution but their creative talents were thwarted by machines replacing domestic tasks such as furniture making, textile design, etc.
Launching a ’do-it-yourself-movement, Morris set out to equate applied art with fine art and to formalize education in the Applied Arts by paying close attention to quality and intended use of materials.
It was an influence whose success not only empowered the middle class generally but dignified the labor of women in that it elevated to an art form domestic tasks such as sewing, quilting, china painting, needle pointing and pottery making.
Indicative of these changes was that needlepoint was exhibited as a fine art along with painting and sculpture at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Morris promoted his ideas through his company of painters, designers and architects named Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company. He designed wallpapers, fabrics, furniture and books and did weaving and dye staining.
In 1888, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society held their first show in England, and in 1897, Boston hosted the First American Society of Arts and Crafts exhibition. The movement spread throughout Europe and was a strong influence on Walter Gropius in his founding of the Bauhaus School in Germany.
In America, the Arts and Crafts Movement resulted in academic respect for folk art and public respect for it as a part of fine art. In 2004, the Los Angeles County Museum launched a traveling exhibition titled â€œThe Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and Americaâ€.
Organized by Decorative Arts Curator Wendy Kaplan and focused on the heyday of the movement, 1890 to 1910, it was the first museum exhibition to explore the international impact of the movement.
Exhibited were more than 300 objects, with furniture being dominant but including jewelry, ceramics, textiles, stained glass, book bindings, tapestries and hand-printed wall paper.
In America, leading architectural promoters were architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Henry Hobson Richardson, and strong supporters included furniture maker Gustav Stickley.
American artists who became part of the movement include Arthur Mathews and Lucia Matthews, Birge Harrison, John Fabian Carlson, Hermann Murphy, Blanche Lazzell, Anna and Albert Valentien, Zulma Steele-Parker and Reginald Machell.