The Arts and Crafts Movement began well after the Industrial
Revolution, perhaps when furniture manufacturers had, to
cut production cost, were cutting corners when it came to
the strength of the joinery which, for the most part, was
hidden anyway - so who'd know until after they'd bought
and had the furniture around for a while. The company
already had those folk's money - and there were plenty
more customers out there who wouldn't know quality
if struck in the face with it - sort of the Ikea of that era.
One of the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement was
"honesty" and visible joinery, decorated and used as a design
element or not, displaying the strength of the joinery and the
craftsmanship required to make them - and maybe point
up the shortcomings of the "manufactured" furniture.
Just a hypothesis. What say you?
I agree to a point charlie. The movement also was in reaction to the
French, Colonial, Louis (frilly) furniture style. The clean lines of
arts~n~crafts are a beautiful thing in themselves. A friend of mine
captured it "...you have to beat and mold metal to make it beautiful, you
have to sculpt dirt into pottery, but wood is already beautiful...you just
have to make sure you don't screw it up!...) I think that exemplifies what
Morris and Stickley (and others) were saying. The clean lines and crisp
joints enhance the wood without detracting from it.
The American Craftsman style definitely has roots in the British A&C
movement, which dates back to the 1860s and was indeed a reaction to
the Industrial Revolution and its dehumanization of labor.
Ironically, on much of the Craftsman style furniture I see around these
days, even the handmade stuff, the through tenons are fake. :-)
While that's to be expected - cut cost by cutting quality/integrity
of the joinery - but make it LOOK strong. More ironic is that
Stickley and maybe even the guy who did most of the Greene &
Greene stuff for the Gamble House - used SCREWS and covered
them with plugs that looked like the ends of through tenons.
Visible traditional joinery, or at least what looked like traditional
joinery, were design elements, not for function.
It seems "business and the bottom line" takes precedent (sp?)
over quality and integrity almost every time. It's typically the
"amateur" who makes the better quality furniture - though
there are several exceptions.
Another Arts & Crafts irony was that the ideialistic promoters of the
philosophy yearned for a "workers paradise" where the builders of the
furniture could make the "honest" furniture available at fair prices to
the working man. However, the intensive hand labor resulted in
high-quality furniture that was generally available only to the wealthy.
Which one ? British (Ruskin / Morris) or American (the Sticklebacks et
al.) ? There's 50 years difference between them. Britain really began
this in 1851, as a direct response to the Americn invasion of the
Crystal Palace with all manner of complicated manufactured goods -- the
real pre-Ford beginning of factory-manufacture by machine as the
significant and eventually dominant influence on all manufactured
The Industrial Revolution was late coming to woodworking, compared to
textiles. Just look at the dates for Brunel pere's block-making
machinery as a starting point.
Nor did furniture of the period suffer in quality. "Typical"
working-class furniture in the UK was as well-made as anything from
previous centuries. It wasn't as sophisticated as posh stuff from a
century earlier, but we jerry-built houses and especially we
adulterated food in a way we'd simply not yet learned to do for
furniture. Furniture didn't turn cheap and nasty until around WW1,
particularly involving new glues and cheap plywood.
In the US movement perhaps. The British movement was always _far_ more
concerned with process and working conditions than it was with end
results. Much of it was, to be honest, poor quality and amateurish (the
infamous Oxford debating chamber).
Gustav Stickley is interesting here as one of the few Americans who
were close to Ruskin's theories of gainful employment, compared to the
others who were much more interested in the final visuals. It's also
notable that Gustav work (mainly his designs, paticularly for smaller
houses) was intended to be kept affordable by the "average" working man
in a way that was hinted at by the British as being desirable, but
which Morris had singularly failed to achieve. Other American designers
(I'm thinking of Greene & Greene) had no real interest in attempting
this and simply made the best designs they could for whichever
soap-magnate could afford them.
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