Arts and Crafts Movement
Physical law is often the force behind societal change. "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." This pendulamic dynamism of nature is a driving force of human nature as well. Such, our taste has swung radically from Queen Anne to Chippendale, from sandals to wing tips, from Carter to Reagan, and from disco to country, seemingly overnight. As patron taste changes, so too must the artist. Understanding the forces that have steered our artisans makes the study of history and antiques all the more interesting.
The Arts and Crafts Movement that dawned in the last quarter of 19th century England was one of the most sweeping and significant changes in decorative art history. Today, it is the most fertile and untilled of all antique fields. Toward understanding this market, know first that it was born as a reaction. Industrialization had seized Western society by 1850. Dickens had written of its de-humanizing effects in Hard Times(1854). The influential writer/critic John Ruskin blamed mechanization for subverting workers' creativity. He censured industrial products as "monotonous uninspired goods," and wrote "industry without art is brutality." Taste was changing. English socialist, poet, and designer, William Morris founded a company bearing his name in 1861 employing craftsman and artists to produce furniture, glass, ceramics, metalwork, and textiles to meet this demand.
In 1871 Ruskin founded the Guild of St. George, to restore "organic art" and a pre-industrial life-style of handcraft and joy in labor. Other community leaders and societies followed Ruskin and Morris. The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was established 1875. They argued not only for a return to skilled craftsmanlike workmanship, but to have such products recognized as art. This was a reaction as well; against the exclusive view of academic art encouraged by the English Royal Academy. The clique heralded gilt-framed oil paintings at their exhibitions; relegating sculpture, architecture, pottery, and other arts of decorative design to subordinate positions. By 1900, the twin revolts against the crushing influence of academic arrogance and industrial monotony had been successful.
Recognizing those valuable antiques influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement is made easier by understanding its artists' tenets: The appreciation of art in everyday objects, handcraftsmanship-or at least the objects should appear that they were made by hand, sound materials and straightforward conceptual design, ornament derived from nature and subordinated to form and function. These reformers believed that they were saving society with their art. Society lives on and so does their influence in the history of western design: In the organic lines of the French "Art Nouveau"(1895-1915) movement, in its German equivalent, "Jugendstil"(1900-1915), in the American Franciscan expression of "Mission(oak) Style"(1900-1935) with its purposeful design and obvious signs of handwork such as exposed mortise-and-tenon joints and hammer-pommeled coppersmithing. Even the tubular steel, modernistic movement of "Art Deco"(1925-1950), and artist-concepted "Studio Craft"(1945 - today), show Art and Crafts influence in their severely functional, highly individualistic designs.
When you come upon a Mission Oak chair stamped by Gustav Stickley, or a mat-glazed mullen-leaf colored pot marked by Grueby, or a Tiffany lamp and that feels so natural you would swear that the artist was sitting in forest when he/she fashioned it, remember physics, and a pendulum that swung in the twilight years of 19th century England.