Understanding Antiques—The Arts and Crafts Movement Pt. II

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts on the Arts and Crafts Movement and its antiques and collectibles by Fred Taylor, our American Furniture Worthologist.

The Implemenatation

The transition required for any movement’s continuing relevancy, that from art to industry, would have to wait a few more years until the cabinetmaking son of a German immigrant, Gustav Stickley (1858-1942), was ready for it. Following Hubbard’s example, Stickley went to England for inspiration even though by the time he got there, William Morris was already dead.

Nevertheless, Stickley returned to America committed to producing a line of furniture based on the principles of the founder, handcrafted and grounded in honesty and simplicity. But Gustav was a realist. He knew that he had to adopt modern factory methods to his idea. He just had to keep it under control.

Gustav Stickley eventually was successful in producing a line of furniture that embodied all the tenets of the original Arts and Crafts founders except one. His furniture was not handmade by individual craftsmen. It was closely supervised and had a lot of handwork done on it, but it was essentially made in a factory using the latest technology and machinery available. After he opened his United Crafts shop in 1898 in Eastwood, N.Y., he introduced a line of “Craftsman” furniture through Tobey Furniture Co. of Chicago. The line was sold without his mark, bearing only the Tobey label and the phrase “The New Furniture.”

Stickley—This is the most famous mark of the entire Arts and Crafts period, Gustav Stickley’s cabinetmaker’s compass, motto “Als Ik Kan” and his signature. (Fred Taylor photo)

By 1902, Stickley was retailing his own self-marked line and was in direct competition with two of his furniture-making younger siblings, Leopold and John George. The brothers incorporated L&JG Stickley Co. in Fayetteville, N.Y., and produced furniture based on Gustav’s designs and those of Frank Lloyd Wright but with less attention to the original Arts and Crafts precepts and more attention to production runs and marketing. And there were other major players in the hottest new game in town besides the Stickleys and Tobey. Grand Rapids weighed in with Limbert and Lifetime and hundreds of factories across the Northeast and Midwest, including those of Larkin and Marshall. Fields turned out boxcar loads of “Mission” and “Arts and Crafts” furniture and accessories.

Early Stickley Brothers work adhered closely to the pattern set by older brother Gustav.

By 1916, Gustav had given up, driven into bankruptcy by competition from those less attuned to the quality and integrity of the product. Brothers L and JG assumed his debts, took over his shop and his designs, and continued in the Arts and Crafts furniture business for a few more years. But America was growing tired of the mental discipline required to adhere to the movement’s line, the starkness of the designs and the declining quality of the mass-produced offerings. And entry into World War I did nothing to lighten the mood.

The most popular of the famous “elastic” stacking bookcases made by Globe-Wernicke were Mission style made of oak.

As the war drew to a close in 1918, so, for all intents and purposes, did the Arts and Crafts Movement, a victim of its own straight-line severity and lack of flexibility in adapting to the new age in this country. In 1922, L&JG Stickley Co. introduced its new line of furniture, the Cherry Valley Collection, based on traditional New England designs. This final surrender of Arts and Crafts by the family largely responsible for its dominance in America signaled the total emergence of a new era that also harkened to an earlier period, America’s colonial past, embodied by the Colonial Revival.

One of the most popular forms of the period was the couch with arms that were even with the back in height. It was called a “settle.”

And yet the original reformist movement, by falling into bed with the very ideals it despised and sought to supplant—factories and mass production—actually succeeded in fulfilling one of its earliest stated goals. That being providing the working middle class with a line of well-made, reasonably priced, comfortable and sturdy furniture. Social irony at its best.

– Fred Taylor is the American Furniture Worthologist and an expert in furniture restoration. He’s published numerous articles on antiques on WorthPoint and in “Antique Trader,” “Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine,” “Northeast Magazine, “Victorian Decorating and Lifestyles,” “Professional Refinishing” and “The Antique Shoppe Newspaper.” Read more about Fred on his Worthologist profile, and check out his book “How To Be A Furniture Detective” and Fred and Gail Taylor’sDVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture” on their very informative Web site, Furniture Detective.

Other articles by Fred Taylor:

Identifying Wood Species—Part I

Identifying Wood Species—Part II

Identifying Wood Species—Part III

A Fortune from the Kitchen Table

Understanding Antique—The Arts and Crafts Movement Pt. I

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