The Arts and Crafts movement wasn’t all just about Stickley or Limbert; the Roycrofters also had a say in the matter; but who exactly were the Roycrofters?
To answer that question, we need to know a bit about the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. “Movements” generally refer to a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas. This was the case with the Arts and Crafts movement.
The industrial revolution was over; many things were made by machine, especially furniture, though the furniture is still the same old style, just made faster – and more shoddily. Craftsmanship was pretty much gone out the window; people were sick of the industrial lifestyle – hard work in terrible conditions, economic and social conditions that are unsatisfactory; they felt separated from nature. People tired of it, and revolted, taking on a new lifestyle, standing for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often applied medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It advocated economic and social reform and has been said to be essentially anti-industrial.
The lived together sometimes, almost commune-like. They were basically the late 19th century’s hippies.
The name “Roycroft” was chosen after the printers, Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, who made books in London from about 1650–1690. And beyond this, the word roycroft had a special significance to Elbert Hubbard, meaning King’s Craft. In guilds of early modern Europe, king’s craftsmen were guild members who had achieved a high degree of skill and therefore made things for the King. The Roycroft insignia was borrowed from the monk Cassidorius, a 13th century bookbinder and illuminator.
Elbert Hubbard had been influenced by the ideas of William Morris on a visit to England. He was unable to find a publisher for his book Little Journeys, so inspired by Morris’s Kelmscott Press, decided to set up his own private press to print the book himself, founding Roycroft Press.
His championing of the Arts and Crafts approach attracted a number of visiting craftspeople to East Aurora, and they formed a community of printers, furniture makers, metalsmiths, leathersmiths, and bookbinders. A quotation from John Ruskin formed the Roycroft “creed”:
A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.
The inspirational leadership of Hubbard attracted a group of almost 500 people by 1910, and millions more knew of him through his essay A Message to Garcia.
In 1915 Hubbard and his wife, noted suffragette Alice Moore Hubbard, died in the sinking of RMS Lusitania, and the Roycroft community went into a gradual decline. Following Elbert’s death, his son Bert took over the business. In attempts to keep his father’s business afloat, Bert proposed selling Roycroft’s furniture through major retailers. Sears & Roebuck eventually agreed to carry the furniture, but this was only a short lived success.
Fourteen original Roycroft buildings are located in the area of South Grove and Main Street in East Aurora. Known as the “Roycroft Campus”, this rare survival of anart colony was awarded National Historic Landmark status in 1986.
The Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum, housed in the George and Gladys Scheidemantel House, in East Aurora is the main collection and research centre for the work of the Roycrofters.
So, there we have a bit of history of the Roycrofters…