The Arts & Crafts and The Craftsman House
Few remember the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Exposition, the “International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and Products of the Soil and Mine”, though the exposition enjoyed 10 million visitors from 37-plus countries. This exposition of American muscle and machine on the centennial of the nation’s founding was a shock to the patriot farmer, an inspiration to the acquisitive industrialist. There were knives and forks twice man-size, cannon large as a train’s engine, and an engine, the Corliss Steam Engine, that towered over mere trains like a colossus. From then until now some Americans have worshiped the Machine, some have retreated to Eden.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
from William Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us”
Alike Americans, Englanders suffered dehumanizing factories while enjoying the fruits of commercial profit. Because hard-pressed by overlords, hunger and want, England’s reaction to the machine was stronger and earlier than ours. Philosophers, artists, architects, and critics praised the virtue of honest labor, damned the servility of confined employment. At the same time, farmers, the hungry, the desperate and the ambitious flocked to factory jobs. Then, as now, elite aims and common targets face in opposite directions, and this the cause of our missing the mark.
Arts & Crafts Biographies
A. W. N. Pugin (1812–1852) was an architect-philosopher attuned to Nature, sensitive to the steel teeth of earth-grinding, life-eating machines. He was a medievalist, comfortable with familiar materials, structures, and social functions, and he was a Romantic alike the poets of an earlier generation (Blake, Shelley, et alia). It was Pugin, more than others, who in architecture realized the Romantic, Gothic vision. Too, Pugin criticized the eager destructions of the modernist industrialist, preached of handmade virtue, the craftsman and tradition. ………………………………
John Ruskin (1819–1900) equated a nation’s moral health to the virtuous qualities of its architecture. He believed that mechanized labor created a sickly, servile person, that a healthy, moral society is composed of independent persons who labor independently with their hands. In brief, he considered the factory-made, dishonest, the hand-made, dignified. Through Ruskin, craftsmanship is thought to be physically and ethically superior to degenerating industrial manufacture (a public relations battle that the modern corporation has yet to win).
William Morris (1834–1896) was a craftsman, a designer, a manufacturer, and the father of The Arts & Crafts Movement. Morris understood that the intellectual and physical combine to create a superior work-of-art or of craft (furniture, wallpaper, pottery, et cetera). Morris’s painter and poet friends helped him to grow in imagination and competence, a competence which by upbringing and nature he was inclined. One such friend, Edward Burne-Jones, declared that his social set intended to “wage Holy warfare against the Age“. In 1861, Morris began to commercialize his furniture and decorative arts. In 1875, Morris founded Morris & Company, perhaps the most artistically significant studio since the Medieval guild, the Renaissance workshop, and the French royal manufacture. Morris & Company employed Rosetti, Burne-Jones, and many another Pre-Raphaelite artist and craftsman. Morris beautifully unified the decorations of home, elevated family aesthetic virtue, and returned the soul’s attention to Nature’s exquisitely simple forms.
Gustav Stickley (1858–1942), publisher, manufacturer, designer, leader of the American Arts & Crafts movement. Likely, you know Stickley’s furniture, heavy oak generously cushioned, constructed of vertical boards clean and measured, shaped to create simple aesthetic delight. His metalwork mechanical furniture (lamps, et cetera) was hammered, bright-polished or deep patinaed. Metal or wood, his designs are sincere, honest, clean. Think “Restoration Hardware” before they went French Country elite.
Stickley in 1901 founded The Craftsman magazine. In the magazine were architectural plans, designs for furniture suitable to the skills of hobbyists, product recommendations, garden hints, landscape suggestions, histories, biographies, and advice on how best to live. How best to live? Earnestly, aesthetically, richly in history, independently and beautifully. Stickley was inspired by William Morris who said, “without dignified, creative human occupation people became disconnected from life“.
The Arts & Crafts Movement
Since its inception, the Arts & Crafts Movement has been a critique of industry, a fealty to tradition, a contradiction of opinion and practice. From its first, Arts & Crafts creators employed machines to make handicraft affordable. For the most part, the Arts & Crafts has been an absurdity of posturing craftsman-socialists who profit capitalistically. As I have found, socialists and communists are the most skilled promoters, the most inclined to public relations … must be, to camouflage what they are with what they would seem.
From the Arts & Crafts Movement, a continuation of handicraft from the guilds through the studios to the independent craftsman, a handing-along of the materials and practices necessary to the creation of Fine Art and High Craft. Many societies, schools and community organizations grew from the Arts & Crafts: The Rhode Island School of Design (1877), Stickley’s Craftsman Farms (1905), Cranbrook Academy (1922), Penland (1929), and The Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts, founded 1906, the school where this author was trained to make pictures and statues, to engrave and to etch, to form jewelry and pots, and many another thing besides. All excellent practices, each a discipline that demands virtue, each an aesthetic that encourages generosity, the generosity of conceit, confidence that what you make will be a benefit to others and will be loved by all.
Few of the old Arts & Crafts schools and societies have survived into this 21st Century of Christ. Most have repurposed when submitting to Progressive orthodoxy or restructured when surrendering to corporate interest, as did my school when it was repurposed, retitling itself the cringe-worthy “Center for Creative Studies”, restructured when it hired an Abstract Expressionist dean ignorant of craft and history, retooled when it became a training academy for industrial manufacture. The automobile and other service machines are very fine things in their way, they are productive of employment and of national wealth, national success*; even so, much imagination has been lost to the Future of the Present, much of the craft that looks Forward through the Past has been forgotten, and skill in the creation of timeless Beauty has disappeared, for the most part.
The Arts & Crafts, Craftsman House
The Shakers were among the exhibitors of the 1876 exposition, and as you know, the Shakers were creators of an aesthetic productive of utopia, much alike the utopia imagined by Arts & Crafts socialists. The plain Shaker aesthetic influenced Stickley and distinguished the sincere American Craftsman from the stylish British Arts & Crafts. Our Arts & Crafts is devoid of machined doodad and artsy pretense. And one thing more, “Orientalism”, an undressing of Classive, architectural language. For instance, the word most descriptive of the Arts & Crafts house, bungalow, is a Hindi-based word meaning “shelter”.
Architects alike the brothers Greene merged the Shaker with Morris and the Oriental (not the Asian) to create a most elegant precedent for the Pacific Coast Craftsman, a tradition that beautifully continues. Craftsman architects of the Atlantic Coast created a utilitarian, sometimes heavy style, the militant style of Stickley. After WWI, Stickley’s Atlantic Craftsman style was imitated by the manufactured housing industry and was found in the catalogs of Aladdin, Sears and Roebuck, et cetera. You will find that Craftsman houses dominate the pages of mail-order catalogs, predominate the streets of many American cities of the Midwest and the Atlantic Coast. Craftsman houses are so pervasive that some have made a sport of identifying Sears bungalows by catalog, name, and page number.
Craftsman bungalows are cozy, familiar, firm, popular these 100 years, suitable to refinement, as New Urbanist architects have found. In recent decades, Craftsman houses have enjoyed a revival, becoming lighter, prettier, more open and inviting, though less interesting. Craftsman houses have retained an aesthetic appeal, though they have lost to technology their tradition of handicraft, their reforming spirit.
Craftsman House Characteristics
Low-slung and rectangular, usually one or one-and-a-half stories.
Low-pitched, most often front-gabled, sometimes hipped, gently sloped with heavy, overhanging eaves supported by utilitarian brackets. A second story is usually admitted by a single dormer.
Arranged in groups of two or three, double-hung sash, the upper half sometimes smaller.
Structure and Materials
A fieldstone base and fieldstone chimney, the walls most often wood, though stucco and brick are common. Heavy porches with squarish piers that support a weighted, overhanging roof. Siding might be clapboard, board-and-batten, shingle.
Space and Floor Plan
The basic bungalow shows its short side to the street with rooms aligning one behind the other without the necessity of hallways.
The heavy door will want a heavy yet beautiful handle and hinge, an upper row of window above the typical plinth; the glass might be leaded, and sometimes the whole will have sidelights.
Structural details are the excuse for decoration; hinges, pegs, and joints become practical, aesthetic abstractions.
Natural colors of natural materials, the ochres, browns, and greens of earth, the olives and terra-cottas.
There should be a seamless relationship between house and landscape. The base of the house might taper up from solid earth as does a hill.
Great and diverse, influenced by numerous traditions, regional habits and local conditions.
It is alright to decorate construction but never construct decoration. A.W.N. Pugin
The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it. John Ruskin
When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. John Ruskin
When we build … let it not be for present delights nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think … that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor, and the wrought substance of them, See! This our fathers did for us! John Ruskin
People are eternally divided into two classes, the believer, builder, and praiser…and the unbeliever, destroyer and critic. John Ruskin
The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life. William Morris
Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization. William Morris
When a man’s home is born out of his heart and developed through his labor and perfected through his sense of beauty, it is the very cornerstone of life. Gustav Stickley
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* Samuel Cashwan (a Detroit area sculptor who taught in the 20s where I taught in the 80s) would have his students model a face portrait, turn the portrait into an automobile facade, then back into a human face … perhaps you notice the loveable anthropomorphic qualities of American automobiles of the 20s, 30s, 40s.
Featured image: The Gamble House, Pasadena, California, Greene & Greene, architects; Carol Highsmith, photographer.
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The Craftsman House Portfolio
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