With clean lines and the simple ornamentation, many examples of craftman style were designed to last the lifetimes of their owners.
Elegantly understated furniture was often built of oak, then "fumed" to create a dark, lustrous finish. Textiles were often simple; linen, cotton, wool, and silk were favored. Metals like silver and copper were forged and hammered to create distinctively simple but beautiful vessels, implements, and decorative objects. Pottery attained levels of design excellence that have rarely been equaled since.
"Less is more" would have applied to many of the interiors created at the time. Writers gleefully compared the decor of the Victorians with the new designs. One series in popular home magazine of the day describes at length "The Poor Taste of the Rich." In the December 1904 House Beautiful one editor wrote: "Almost as an answer to prayer comes the simplicity movement in furniture making, in interior decoration, and daily life ...nothing lately has been of more value than the new idea that simplicity is the soul of beauty."
Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, and Mission style are often used interchangably to refer to the same style, but each has its specific meaning. Each is lightly defined below.
Arts & Crafts is both a style and design philosophy rooted in the reaction of artists and thinkers to the wave of industrialization that washed over English society in the mid-1900s. It was based on humanistic, progressive ideals that recognized the value of the craftsman and appreciated the inherent quality of design and quality in goods created by master craftsmen. The movement focused on design simplicity and the honest use of materials to create functional works of art. The famous quote by William Morris sums up the goal of Arts & Crafts adherents: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
The English movement was political, philosophical, idealistic, and broad. It began with architects and philosophers like A. W. Pugin and John Ruskin and influenced more than a generation of English designers in every artistic field. In addition to William Morris, other notables included C. F. Voysey, Walter Crane, and Charles Rennie Macintosh.
The English ran into practical difficulties when it came time to reconcile their ideals with the practicalities of producing goods people could afford. Because mass-produced goods could be made quickly and cheaply, it was impossible for craftspeople to compete.
The Arts & Crafts style was also a reaction to industrialized design which made it possible to create goods with lots of cheap ornamentation. The taste of Victorian designers was decried as hideously ugly. The Arts & Crafts antidote was simplicity.
Before 1900, the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts Movement was just beginning to take hold in the US. Design and architecture incorporated A&C concepts from 1880 on as architects and artists were influenced by social, economic, and political changes as well as by their own travels to other countries. Gustav Stickley, Elbert Hubbard, and Frank Lloyd Wright all journeyed to England in the late 1890s and returned with fresh design ideas. Each had a significant influence on his field and the way the American movement subsequently developed.
Craftsman style is the American expression of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Gustav Stickley is credited with the term which came from his monthly publication, The Craftsman. Every month, from 1901 to 1916, Stickley explored a variety of Arts & Crafts topics and artisans as well as publishing plans of his craftsman bungalow homes.
The Craftsman design ethic, like that of the A&C Movement, was about honesty in design and quality in craftsmanship. The essential difference was that the Americans were more successful at blending Craftsman ideals with the practical realities of the new industrial order.
Mission style is a generic term is used to describe the furnishings of the American Craftsman movement.
The origins of the term are somewhat in dispute. Some researchers attribute its earliest usage to Joseph McHugh in New York who introduced his line as "Mission Furniture" before 1900. And though more research needs to be done, by 1905 the term was in common usage. "The popular 'Mission' furniture of to-day is severe in line, but restful to the eye, and the pieces carried out on the simple lines of construction are very solid and comfortable."
It isn't known when the style came to Gustav Stickley's attention, but it must have been around 1900. He quickly moved to design his own line of furniture along the "mission" lines and began to market the oak, mortise-and-tenon joined furniture using The Craftsman as his primary advertising vehicle. Whatever else can be said of its origins, Stickley's efforts popularized the style that eventually became one of America's most beloved.
By 1910, the style — regardless of its name — had clearly entered the mainstream. Pieces appeared as early as 1901 in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and by 1905, Stickley, Limbert, Come-Packt, and William Leavens among many others were actively marketing their lines of "straight line" furniture.
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