By the beginning of the 20th century, reform-minded individuals in America embraced the British movement’s philosophies and adopted craft programs to assimilate newly arrived immigrants, educate women and the unemployed, and offer a means of therapeutic rehabilitation. At the same time, artists and their patrons formed Arts and Crafts societies in cities across the country, and museums showcased their efforts in annual exhibitions. Regional styles and tastes developed, such as the delicate handcrafting of Boston’s Grueby Pottery or the southern flora on Newcomb’s vases. The movement’s aesthetics and ideas, however, reached a large, middle-class audience mainly through the skilled self-promotion of two men: Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley.
Hubbard initially founded Roycroft as a printing press, and it quickly developed a reputation for beautifully crafted bindings and page designs modeled after the style of Morris’s Kelmscott Press. The firm later expanded their production to include ceramics and furniture and achieved fame for their metalwork. During the first decade of the 20th century, Dard Hunter brought a new sense of refinement to the Roycroft brand. He experimented with bolder, more modern designs, especially the elongation and linear contours typical of the Viennese Secessionists.
With an entrepreneurial spirit that perhaps surpassed Hubbard’s, Stickley transformed his furniture production company into an architectural and decorating empire complete with a monthly magazine, the Craftsman, which promoted and supported dozens of artisans and organizations. While Stickley experimented with design trends ranging from the sinuous lines and vegetal motifs of European Art Nouveau to the exquisite forms and decorative inlays of British designers like Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, he is best known for his uncomplicated oak furniture that he himself described as “simple, strong, comfortable.” Stickley’s enterprise was so successful that the name Craftsman practically became synonymous with American Arts and Crafts style.
Gustav Stickley. Armchair (no. 2342), 1901. Collection of Crab Tree Farm.