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?
Category Archives: The Craftsman Style
Let’s go back….to the late 1800s. The industrial revolution is over; many things are made by machine now, especially furniture, though the furniture is still the same old style, just made faster – and more shoddily. Craftsmanship is pretty much gone out the window. People are sick of the industrial lifestyle – hard work in terrible conditions, economic and social conditions that are unsatisfactory. Feeling separated from nature. In England, William Morris, an artist and writer leads a movement away from these troubling conditions, ushering in the age of the Arts and Crafts movement, and furniture that is later called “Craftsman” or “Mission” style (for an explanation of the difference, see my blog post Craftsman, Mission, Arts and Crafts – Whats the difference?).
The Arts and Crafts movement wasn’t just about furniture; it was about simplicity, wallpaper, home design; bringing in earthy tones and natural materials and simple man-made materials like wood, stone, tile, stained glass, animal figures and so on. It was an evolution – though going backward, in a sense.
But this is a woodworking blog, so we’ll focus on that. Studying the craftsman style, one will see simple symmetrical pieces with only moderate embellishment (and even the embellishments were simple). Joinery is solid, lasting, simple – witness the mortise and tenon joint. Embellishments were as simple as an arch in a stretcher, all the way up to inlays of beautiful, though somewhat simple patterns of different colored woods, and even some metals such as pewter and copper.
But why was this so? Again, it’s going back to the reason for the Arts and Crafts movement, and I think it’s worthing being aware of – especially today, when we have furniture atrocities in the manifestations of IKEA and home assembly fiber-board “furniture” from Wal-Mart, that has very little style, and certainly won’t last.
No, what their philosophy was on the matter of furniture is quite insightful. Gustav Stickley, whom one could really call the father of Mission furniture (at least in America), felt that those things that we want to keep around us in are home (furniture) should be as carefully selected as our friends; they should have certain qualities and characteristics before we allow them into our heart and home. He felt that inanimate objects like furniture have their own honesty, characteristics and qualities as well. If they do their job – their designed purpose – in a way that is consistent, done well, and are attractive pieces – then they should be welcomed into our homes. Which makes sense, when you think about it – would you want an ugly, uncomfortable chair whose leg sometimes collapses in your home? I would hope not; though some people put up with it. These pieces, Stickley felt, then become like old friends, which only adds to the richness and comfort of your home.
He addresses the craftsman (the person), saying, to paraphrase, that if he created a piece under duress, on an assembly line, with no passion, and no care for the creation, then the piece reflects that. However, if he has shown great passion in his work, and carried it out technically well, then the created piece will reflect that wonderful sentiment throughout it’s existence. In a sense, the craftsman breathes a soul into a piece.
And it’s quite true. If you are a good woodworker, do you have pieces about your home that you made that really add to your life? Would you miss it if it was gone? I know I do. I have a beautiful coffee table I made, and sweated over, refinishing it three times, because I didn’t get the finish right; it was one of my first major projects, and I had quite a time with it. But it turned out wonderfully. It is solid and attractive, and perhaps one day, my kids will enjoy it as much as I do.
Now, THAT is good woodworking.
You’ve heard the name “Stickley” in regards to mission style furniture; but you probably never heard of Charles Limbert – yet in my opinion, Limbert’s contribution to the Mission or Craftsman style is every bit as important as Stickley’s.
Limbert took what Stickley did – the hard, straight right angles and softened them, without diminishing the angularity that defines the Mission style.
Here’s more on Limbert from the Arts and Crafts Society.
Charles P. Limbert was born in Lyonsville, Pennsylvania in 1854 and died at his home outside Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1923.
Influenced by the heavily Dutch population of the Grand Rapids area, Limbert started designing and building “Dutch Arts and Crafts” style furniture and lighting at his Grand Rapids factory in 1902. He always used the phrase “Arts and Crafts,” and never the word “mission” to describe his furniture. He was a student of European furniture designs, acknowledging the influence of the German and Austrian Secessionists on his work. British (particularly Charles Rennie MacKintosh), Japanese, and American Prairie School influences are also evident in Limbert forms. Limbert visited Europe on more than one occasion, and studied examples of Dutch peasant furniture.
Limbert claimed that the original Spanish Mission Style was derived from Dutch furniture designs. He employed a designer of Austrian background named William Gohlke. Paul Horti, famous for Shop of the Crafters designs, also designed some furniture for Limbert. Of all American Arts and Crafts furniture makers, Limbert was perhaps the best known for his use of decorative cutouts, including squares, spades, hearts, etc. While Arts and Crafts enthusiasts may not find all Limbert designs aesthetically pleasing, the good designs are very good.
He emphasized high quality in materials and joinery techniques, but his line was diverse enough to include outdoor furniture in the Arts and Crafts style. Like Gustav Stickley, Limbert also produced a short-lived line of inlaid furniture and, like Stickley’s, the line was not a commercial success. That the Charles P. Limbert Company stayed in business during and after WWI is a tribute to the appeal and success of its products with consumers. Limbert’s furniture was also chosen to outfit the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park in 1906.
Charles was the son of a furniture dealer and cabinet maker, Levi H. Limbert. He first joined the furniture industry as a salesman, and in that capacity he was highly regarded. In 1894 he started a Grand Rapids, Michigan manufactory making chairs, all the while continuing to act as a sales agent for other furniture makers. He is recognized for having popularized the rustic furniture of Old Hickory of Martinsville, Indiana.
In 1906, he opened a factory in Holland, Michigan where he produced furniture until 1922 when ill health prompted him to sell off his interest in the company. Limbert said that he wanted a more healthy and productive location for his workers. The Holland factory was a scenic site with indoor and outdoor recreational facilities for the workforce. It was also accessible by interurban trolley line from Grand Rapids.
Limbert’s furniture has justly seen a reawakening of interest in the current Arts and Crafts Revival.
People use the terms “Craftsman”, “Arts and Crafts” and “Mission” interchangeably to describe a popular style of the early 1900s; but what is the real difference amongst them? In this short article, I hope to spell out those distincitions.
The Arts and Crafts style is the earliest of the three. This style began in England, Australia, America and Canada between 1880 and 1910 as a backlash response to the industrial revolution of the time. It was instigated in the 1860s by artist/write William Morris, who created the “Morris Chair” we still have with us today. The backlash was by artisans fighting back against “soul-less” mass-produced items from large factories. Also, it was a backlash against lavish ornamentation of the Victorian age. They were in favor of the master craftsman, who created all the parts of an item and assembled and finished it, with help from apprentices. This is in contrast to manufacturing plants, whose goal it was to turn out the most pieces possible.
The hallmarks of this movement was simplicity of form, to the point of exposed joinery, while emphasising the beauty of the material being used, primarily wood. They also brought in elements they found in British textiles that featured flora and fauna. Usually, they employed carvings, inlays, curvature and other ornamentation.
Machinery was not all together rejected by the craftsman; generally, they used it to lessen the mindless repetitive tasks at hand, such as sanding. Use of machines was generally kept to a minimum though.
In this photo, you can see the typyical hallmarks of an Arts and Crafts piece – the straight and curved lines, simpleness of form and intricate carving.
In America, homes were built that tried to incorporate the stylings of the Arts and Crafts movement, with a modified interpretation, and it was called theCraftsman style; it is an American domestic architectural, interior design, and decorative arts style popular from the last years of the 19th century through the early years of the 20th century. The name comes from a popular magazine published in the early 1900s by furniture maker Gustav Stickley called The Craftsman. It was a great marketing term, as it evoked the image of the piece being made by hand by an artisian, which was exactly the case.
The design lines of the Craftsman style are generally thicker and larger than those of the Arts and Crafts style. Craftsman pieces typically did NOT use carving, inlay, curved boards, and other “decorations,” all of which Stickley was opposed to in his early years of production; however, Stickley’s designs evolved as well, and so it is hard to define a certain piece of furniture as “Stickley” over his 15-20 years of work, as it began to look more like Arts and Crafts in his later designs.
In this photo of a Morris Chair, you can see an example of the simple design, using straight lines and expose joinery with little embellishment that is so typical of the Craftsman movement.
Mission styling is the same as Craftsman. But how did this happen? A salesman of Stickley’s was travelling around, trying to sell some items out of Stickley’s catalog. Interviewed by a reporter, this salesman stated that there was a table like “that one” (pointing to a drawing in the catalog) , in a “Spanish Mission in southern California.” The newspaper had printed the story with the word “Mission” in the heading and sidebar, and it stuck.