The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement was an aesthetic movement that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Begun in Britain by social reformers Walter Crane and John Ruskin, and designer William Morris, it was a reaction against the tastes of the Victorian era and the “soulless” machine-made products of the emerging Industrial Revolution. Their belief was that good design correlated to the notion of a good society. Workers under hardship by the working conditions and machines found in factories often created goods that were poor in design and quality. The movement’s aim was to re-establish a harmony between architect, designer and craftsman, and to produce handmade, well-designed, affordable, everyday objects. These products would enhance the lives of ordinary people while providing fulfilling work for the craftsman.

Medieval Guilds provided a model for the ideal craft production system, while aesthetic ideas were borrowed from Medieval European and Islamic sources. William Morris founded the Klemscott Press in 1891 as a way to produce books by traditional methods using printing technology and styles of the 15th century. He and his fellow artists would go on to design and produce products such as wallpaper, textiles, furniture and glassware.

Inspired by Morris, Elbert G. Hubbard acquired a printing press of his own and established the Roycroft Press in East Aurora, New York. Within a few years it would grow into the Roycroft Shops (1895-1938) boasted a bindery, leather, furniture and metalwork shops, and a stained-glass studio. The Campus would become a vanguard of the creation of the uniquely American “Arts and Crafts” style, a decorative arts design that emphasizes spare, clean lines and simplicity of design.

Others, including craftsman Gustav Stickley, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School, and the founders of utopian communities like Byrdcliffe would also bring these European Arts and Crafts ideals to America. This rectilinear, simpler American Arts and Crafts style came to dominate the country’s architecture, interiors, and furnishings in the late 19th and early 20th century. Each region developed their own, slightly different Arts and Crafts motifs and style. In the American Southwest, architects such as Charles and Henry Greene would find inspiration from Hispanic elements associated with early Mission and Spanish architecture, and Native American design. This particular style of Arts and Crafts is often called Mission style.

The rise of urban centers, the advancement of technology and the horrors of World War I, all helped in the decline of the Arts and Crafts movement. The search for nature and an idealist medieval era was no longer a valid approach to living. By the 1920s, the modern age and the pursuit of a national identity had captured the attention of designers and consumers, bringing an end to the handcrafted nature of the Arts and Crafts as the preferred style. But many of the movement’s ideals; a sense of simplicity, looking toward nature, using regional resources and self sustainability, continue to persist on into the 21st century.

Back to top