Arts and Crafts Movement In the United States, the Arts and Crafts style was also known as Mission style. This movement, which challenged the tastes of the Victorian era, was inspired by the social reform concerns of thinkers such as Walter Crane and John Ruskin, together with the ideals of reformer and designer, William Morris.
Arts and crafts the term was first used by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson at a meeting of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887, although the principles and style on which it was based had been developing in England for at least twenty years. It was inspired by the ideas of architect Augustus Pugin, writer John Ruskin, and designer William Morris.
The Arts and Crafts movement emerged during the late Victorian period in England, the most industrialized country in the world at that time. Anxieties about
A. W. N. Pugin
Some of the ideas of the Arts and crafts movement were anticipated by A.W.N. Pugin (1812–1852), a leader in the Gothic revival in architecture. For example, he, like the Arts and Crafts artists, advocated truth to material, structure and function Pugin articulated the tendency of social critics to compare the faults of modern society (such as the sprawling growth of cities and the treatment of the poor) unfavorably with the Middle Ages, a tendency that became routine with Ruskin, Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. His book Contrasts (1836) drew examples of bad modern buildings and town planning in contrast with good medieval examples, and his biographer Rosemary Hill notes that in it he “reached conclusions, almost in passing, about the importance of craftsmanship and tradition in architecture that it would take the rest of the century and the combined efforts of Ruskin and Morris to work out in detail.” She describes the spare furnishings he specified for a building in 1841 – “rush chairs, oak tables” – as “the Arts and Crafts interior in embryo.”
However, the design reformers of the mid 19th century did not go as far as the designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement: they were more concerned with ornamentation than construction, they had an incomplete understanding of methods of manufacture, and they did not criticize industrial methods as such. By contrast, the Arts and Crafts movement was as much a movement of social reform as design reform and its leading practitioners did not separate the two.
The Arts and Crafts Movement philosophy derived in large measure from John Ruskin’s social criticism, which related the moral and social health of a nation to the qualities of its architecture and to the nature of work. Ruskin (1819–1900) considered the sort of mechanized production and division of labour that had been created in the industrial revolution to be “servile labour” and he thought that a healthy and moral society required independent workers who designed the things they made. His followers favored craft production over industrial manufacture and were concerned about the loss of traditional skills, but they were arguably more troubled by effects of the factory system than by machinery itself and William Morris’s idea of “handicraft” was essentially work without any division of labour rather than work without any sort of machinery.
William Morris (1834–1896), the towering figure in late 19th century design, was the main influence on the Arts and Crafts movement. The aesthetic and social vision of the Arts and Crafts movement derived from ideas he developed in the 1850s with a group of students at the University of Oxford, who combined a love of Romantic literature with a commitment to social reform. By 1855 they had discovered Ruskin and, believing there to be a contrast between the barbarity of contemporary art and the painters preceding Raphael (1483-1530), they formed themselves into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to pursue their artistic aims. The medievalism of Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur set the standard for their early style. In Edward Burne-Jones’ words, they intended to “wage Holy warfare against the age”.
Morris began experimenting with various crafts and designing furniture and interiors.] He was personally involved in manufacture as well as design, which was to be the hallmark of the Arts and Crafts movement. Ruskin had argued that the separation of the intellectual act of design from the manual act of physical creation was both socially and aesthetically damaging; Morris further developed this idea, insisting that no work should be carried out in his workshops before he had personally mastered the appropriate techniques and materials, arguing that “without dignified, creative human occupation people became disconnected from life”
In 1861 Morris began making furniture and decorative objects commercially, modeling his designs on medieval styles and using bold forms and strong colors. His patterns were based on flora and fauna and his products were inspired by the vernacular or domestic traditions of the British countryside. In order to display the beauty of the materials and the work of the craftsman, some were deliberately left unfinished, creating a rustic appearance. Truth to materials, structure and function became characteristic of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Social and design principles
|“Unlike their counterparts in the United States, most Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain had strong, slightly incoherent, negative feelings about machinery. They thought of ‘the craftsman’ as free, creative, and working with his hands, ‘the machine’ as soulless, repetitive, and inhuman. These contrasting images derive in part from John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) The Stones of Venice, an architectural history of Venice that contains a powerful denunciation of modern industrialism to which Arts and Crafts designers returned again and again. Distrust for the machine lay behind the many little workshops that turned their backs on the industrial world around 1900, using preindustrial techniques to create what they called ‘crafts.'” Alan Crawford, “W. A. S. Benson, Machinery, and the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain”|
Critique of industrial methods Arts and Crafts
William Morris advocated production by traditional craft methods but was inconsistent in his view of what place machinery should play. At one point he said that production by machinery was “altogether an evil”, but he was willing to use manufacturers able to work to his standards with the aid of machinery; and he said that, in a “true society”, where neither luxuries nor cheap trash were made, machinery could be improved and used to reduce the hours of labour. Fiona MacCarthy says that “unlike later zealots like Gandhi, William Morris had no practical objections to the use of machinery per se so long as the machines produced the quality he needed.”Morris’s followers also had subtly differing views or changed their minds over time. C.R.Ashbee, for example, a central figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement, shared Morris’s ambivalence. At the time of his Guild of Handicraft, initiated in 1888, he said, “We do not reject the machine, we welcome it. But we would desire to see it mastered.” After unsuccessfully pitting his Guild and School of Handicraft guild against modern methods of manufacture, he acknowledged that “Modern civilization rests on machinery”, but he continued to criticize the deleterious effects of what he called “mechanism”, saying that “the production of certain mechanical commodities is as bad for the national health as is the production of slave-grown cane or child-sweated wares.”
Morris insisted that the artist should be a craftsman-designer working by hand and advocated a society of free craftspeople, which he believed had existed during the Middle Ages. “Because craftsmen took pleasure in their work”, he wrote, “the Middle Ages was a period of greatness in the art of the common people. … The treasures in our museums now are only the common utensils used in households of that age, when hundreds of medieval churches – each one a masterpiece – were built by unsophisticated peasants.”Medieval art was the model for much Arts and Crafts design and medieval life, before capitalism and the factory system, was idealised by the movement.
Morris and his followers believed the division of labour on which modern industry depended was undesirable, but not all Arts and Crafts artists carried out every stage in the making of goods themselves, and it was only in the twentieth century that that became an essential part of the definition of craftsmanship. The founders of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society did not insist that the designer should also be the maker. Peter Floud, writing in the 1950s, said that “The founders of the Society … never executed their own designs, but invariably turned them over to commercial firms. The idea that the designer should be the maker and the maker the designer derived “not from Morris or early Arts and Crafts teaching, but rather from the second-generation elaboration doctrine worked out in the first decade of [the twentieth] century by men such as W. R. Lethaby”.
Socialism Defines Arts and Crafts
Many of the Arts and Crafts Movement designers were socialists, including Morris, T. J. Cobden Sanderson, Walter Crane, C.R.Ashbee, Philip Webb, Charles Faulkner and A.H.Mackmurdo. In the early 1880s Morris was spending more of his time on socialist propaganda than on designing and making. Ashbee established a community of craftsmen, the Guild of Handicraft, in east London, later moving to Chipping Campden. Those adherents who were not socialists, for example, Alfred Hoare Powell advocated a more humane and personal relationship between employer and employee. Lewis Foreman Day, a very successful and influential Arts and Crafts designer, was not a socialist either, despite his long friendship with Crane.
Development Arts and Crafts
Morris’s designs quickly became popular, attracting interest when his company’s work was exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition. Much of Morris & Co’s early work was for churches and Morris won important interior design commissions at St James’s Palace and the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). Later his work became popular with the middle and upper classes, despite his wish to create a democratic art, and by the end of the 19th century, Arts and Crafts design in houses and domestic interiors was the dominant style in Britain, copied in products made by conventional industrial methods.
The spread of Arts and Crafts ideas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in the establishment of many associations and craft communities, although Morris had little to do with them because of his preoccupation with socialism at the time. A hundred and thirty Arts and Crafts organisations were formed in Britain, most between 1895 and 1905.
In 1881, Eglantyne Louisa Jebb, Mary Fraser Tytler and others initiated the Home Arts and Industries Association to encourage the working classes, especially those in rural areas, to take up handicrafts under supervision, not for profit, but in order to provide them with useful occupations and to improve their taste. By 1889 it had 450 classes, 1,000 teachers and 5,000 students.
In 1882, architect A.H.Mackmurdo formed the Century Guild, a partnership of designers including Selwyn Image, Herbert Horne, Clement Heaton and Benjamin Creswick.
In 1884, the Art Workers Guild was initiated by five young architects, William Lethaby, Edward Prior, Ernest Newton, Mervyn Macartney and Gerald C. Horsley, with the goal of bringing together fine and applied arts and raising the status of the latter. It was directed originally by George Blackall Simonds. By 1890 the Guild had 150 members, representing the increasing number of practitioners of the Arts and Crafts style. It still exists.
The London department store Liberty & Co., founded in 1875, was a prominent retailer of goods in the style and of the “artistic dress” favoured by followers of the Arts and Crafts movement.
In 1887 the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which gave its name to the movement, was formed with Walter Crane as president, holding its first exhibition in the New Gallery, London, in November 1888It was the first show of contemporary decorative arts in London since the Grosvenor Gallery’s Winter Exhibition of 1881. Morris & Co. was well represented in the exhibition with furniture, fabrics, carpets and embroideries. Edward Burne-Jones observed, “here for the first time one can measure a bit the change that has happened in the last twenty years”. The society still exists as the Society of Designer Craftsmen.
In 1888, C.R.Ashbee, a major late practitioner of the style in England, founded the Guild and School of Handicraft in the East End of London. The guild was a craft co-operative modelled on the medieval guilds and intended to give working men satisfaction in their craftsmanship. Skilled craftsmen, working on the principles of Ruskin and Morris, were to produce hand-crafted goods and manage a school for apprentices. The idea was greeted with enthusiasm by almost everyone except Morris, who was by now involved with promoting socialism and thought Ashbee’s scheme trivial. From 1888 to 1902 the guild prospered, employing about 50 men. In 1902 Ashbee relocated the guild out of London to begin an experimental community in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. The guild’s work is characterized by plain surfaces of hammered silver, flowing wirework and colored stones in simple settings. Ashbee designed jewellery and silver tableware. The guild flourished at Chipping Camden but did not prosper and was liquidated in 1908. Some craftsmen stayed, contributing to the tradition of modern craftsmanship in the area.
Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941) was an Arts and Crafts architect who also designed fabrics, tiles, ceramics, furniture and metalwork. His style combined simplicity with sophistication. His wallpapers and textiles, featuring stylised bird and plant forms in bold outlines with flat colors, were used widely.
Morris’s thought influenced the distributism of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Arts and Crafts ideals had influenced architecture, painting, sculpture, graphics, illustration, book making and photography, domestic design and the decorative arts, including furniture and woodwork, stained glass, leatherwork, lacemaking, embroidery, rug making and weaving, jewelry and metalwork, enameling and ceramics. By 1910, there was a fashion for “Arts and Crafts” and all things hand-made and a proliferation of amateur handicrafts of variable quality.
The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society held eleven exhibitions between 1888 and 1916. By the outbreak of war in 1914 it was in decline and faced a crisis. Its 1912 exhibition had been a financial failure. While designers in continental Europe were making innovations in design and alliances with industry through initiatives such as the Deutsche Werkbund and new initiatives were being taken in Britain by the Omega Workshops and the Design in Industries Association, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, now under the control of an old guard, was withdrawing from commerce and collaboration with manufacturers into purist handwork and what Tania Harrod describes as “decommoditisation” Its rejection of a commercial role has been seen as a turning point in its fortunes. Nikolaus Pevsner in his book Pioneers of Modern Design presents the Arts and Crafts Movement as design radicals who influenced the modern movement, but failed to change and were eventually superseded by it.
Later influences Arts and Crafts
The British artist potter Bernard Leach brought to England many ideas he had developed in Japan with the social critic Yanagi Soetsu about the moral and social value of simple crafts; both were enthusiastic readers of Ruskin. Leach was an active propagandist for these ideas, which struck a chord with practitioners of the crafts in the inter-war years, and he expounded them in his book The Art of the Potter, published in 1940, which denounced industrial society in terms as vehement as those of Ruskin and Morris. Thus the Arts and Crafts philosophy was perpetuated among British craft workers in the 1950s and 1960s, long after the demise of the Arts and Crafts movement and at the high tide of Modernism. British Utility furniture of the 1940s also derived from Arts and Crafts principles. One of its main promoters, Gordon Russell, chairman of the Utility Furniture Design Panel, was imbued with Arts and Crafts ideas. He manufactured furniture in the Cotswold Hills, a region of Arts and Crafts furniture-making since Ashbee, and he was a member of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. William Morris’s biographer, Fiona MacCarthy, detected the Arts and Crafts philosophy even behind the Festival of Britain (1951), the work of the designer Terence Conran (b. 1931) and the founding of the British Crafts Council in the 1970s.