Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Reformer of American Interior Design: A Century Ago

"Four-Square Reformer"
Barrymore Laurence Scherer, Arts & Entertainment, The Wall Street Journal (November 3, 2010)

"If one name most widely represents the style of the American Arts & Crafts movement in Theodore Roosevelt's era, it is Gustav Stickley. From 1900 to 1913—his most inventive and productive years—Stickley (1858-1942) designed and manufactured furniture whose solid, four-square lines and meticulous workmanship offered a bracing, masculine counterpoint to the turnings, curves and carvings of the Colonial Revival that dominated middle-class American domestic interiors at the time. Now visitors to the Newark Museum can closely examine not just some of Stickley's finest furniture, but also his contributions as a reformer of American interior design.

"Organized by the Dallas Museum of Art under the curatorship of Kevin B. Tucker, who edited and contributed to the sumptuous catalog (published by Dallas Museum in association with Yale University Press), this is a handsome show, comprehensive without being overwhelming.

"Comprised of more than 100 examples of furniture, metalwork, lighting and textiles produced by Stickley's designers and workshops, the show illustrates the philosophy of simplicity, functionalism and hand-craftsmanship that Stickley adapted to a factory production system. In addition, the exhibition draws attention to Stickley's work as an architect through an illuminating representation of architectural drawings and related designs for houses and domestic interiors...."

Who knew that interior design needed reformers now and again?

These days, "the philosophy of simplicity, functionalism and hand-craftsmanship" wouldn't stick out quite as much as it did in the early 20th century. America was getting out of the Victorian age, when the guiding philosophy for design seemed to be that not a single square inch of visible surface should lack an unnecessary flourish or two.

I'm not a huge fan of the sort of sensory-deprivation Modern styles, but the sort of thing Gustav Stickley was doing didn't go to that 'abstract art you sit on' extreme.

The Lemming also isn't so sure about the 'people's revolution against capitalistic oppressor classes' take on the Arts & Craft movement that crops up - maybe so, but I was doing time in American academia when it seemed that just about everything was part of a class struggle against male-dominated authoritarian - you get the idea.

Well, maybe that's what Arts and Crafts movement was all about. Or, maybe not.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History has some pretty good photos: "The Arts and Crafts Movement in America." And, sure enough, the second sentence reads "Anxieties about industrial life fueled a positive revaluation of handcraftsmanship and precapitalist forms of culture and society."

Like I said, maybe so. I'll credit the Met with having some balance: "Unlike in England, the undercurrent of socialism of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States did not spread much beyond the formation of a few Utopian communities."

And, like I said, there are some pretty good photos.

Take a look at the furniture, and you may see something that looks a whole lot like things you've seen in a furniture store within the last decade or so. The Lemming hasn't been tracking furniture fashions, but there may have been an Arts and Crafts revival.

Or maybe somebody saw and A & C piece, decided it looked good, and made one with just enough differences to be 'original.'

Back to that Wall Street Journal article: The style's a bit on the artsy side, which makes sense, considering the topic. And you'll find quite a lot of discussion of Gustav Stickley's work. Again, that makes sense.

It's long on text and short on photos: but does a pretty good job of covering the topic, in the Lemming's opinion.


Brigid said...

There's something missing here: "Take a look a the furniture"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Found it, fixed it: thanks!

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