Arts and Crafts

An Island Garden
Sarah Wyman Whitman
(Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1894)
The Garden Bluebook
(Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929)
Glimpses of Authors
(Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1922)

The Arts and Crafts Movement was not so much a highly organized group or style as a variety of individuals who shared common attitudes towards the creation of the everyday object. Arts and Crafts was at its root a reaction against industrialization. Followers saw contemporary manufacturing practices as soulless and dehumanizing, and they sought to revive techniques of handcrafting in an effort to recognize the individual creativity of every decorative artist. Coming out of the traditions of Aestheticism, they also wanted to elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine arts and focused primarily on areas like furniture making, jewelry and ceramics rather than on the traditional fine arts like painting and sculpture.

John Ruskin was an early influence on the movement, particularly in such writings as The Stones of Venice (1851-53), which denounced industrial manufacturing. William Morris was another important early leader. In 1861, partially as a reaction to what he saw as a lack of well made decorative objects, he founded the design firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., which created many types of high quality goods and quickly gained an international reputation for the excellence and creativity of its work.

Other workshops and artist colonies sprang up throughout Europe and America that held a shared desire to return to hand-craftsmanship. Chicago, upstate New York, and Cincinatti were some of the centers in the United States. Formal groups such as the Art Workers' Guild (1884) and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society (1888) solidified some of the intentions of those involved. In fact, it wasn't until of the founding of the latter organization that the term "Arts and Crafts" came into use. Various publications aided the dialogue within the movement; the most influential in the United States was The Craftsman, published by Gustav Stickley, a well-known furniture manufacturer.

The Man of Sorrows
(The Roycrofters, 1909)

Bookmaking played an important role in the Arts and Crafts Movement, primarily through the influence of William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, founded in 1890. Like other decorative arts, there was a rising concern over the detrimental effects of mass production on book design. Morris sought to rectify this through the founding of his press, which emphasized high quality hand production: handmade papers, heavy inking, original typefaces, and designs that looked back to medieval illuminated manuscripts and incunabula and often included elaborate wood engravings (for examples, see the Kelmscott exhibit at the University of Glasgow). Others followed suit in creating private presses, including American presses like the Roycroft Press of Elbert Hubbard. Covers of these books were often simple paper covered boards or plain soft vellum, but there were also some stamped leather bindings (see pba02335).

Given the emphasis on handcrafting, there was much debate as to whether or not mass production and contemporary manufacturing processes could have a place within Arts and Crafts. In America, there was more integration of craftsman values and industrialization. While there were "pure" workshops that made entirely handmade goods there were also a number of hybrid manufacturers that adhered to design ideals of the movement while keeping prices lower through use of machinery division of labor. In the words of Leslie Greene Bowman, "American businessmen packaged arts and crafts into a consumer proposition." (34)

From this it is evident how mass produced publishers' bindings could have a place within the Arts and Crafts Movement. In fact there were a number of well-known cover designers who were active within the movement. William Bradley and Sarah Wyman Whitman were both founding members of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts (1897), the first formal Arts and Crafts group in America. Bradley even ran his own private press for a period of time, the Wayside Press, and he is a good example of the overlap between Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau (for example, see pbw01228). Sarah Wyman Whitman's covers show her interest in a simplified style and handcrafted appearance. Walter Crane was an English designer and illustrator who was also active in the Arts and Crafts Movement. From 1891-1892 he visited the United States and executed a few illustration and design commissions for publishers (see pba02464). He also exhibited in Boston, where his presence may have encouraged the Arts and Crafts artists there.

The Old Garden and Other Verses
(Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894)

Because there is not a definitive style for Arts and Crafts, identifying covers that show its influence is not a hard and fast science. In some respects the move away from gaudy 1880s cover style to more simple restrained designs in the 90s probably shows the general impact of Arts and Crafts. As with the aforementioned designers, it is most clear when biographical facts show the personal connections with the movement itself.

In general, though, Arts and Crafts influence can be seen in covers with simple, flat, symmetrical designs with abstracted plant motifs, sometimes with a folk art feel to them. Sometimes there is a geometric element, as in The Welding, created by William James Jordan, who was influenced by the Glasgow School in Scotland. They are typically published from the 1890s onwards as late as the 1930s. As mentioned earlier, there is some overlap between Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts. In general, however, Arts and Crafts does not focus as much on the sinuous elegant curve, instead pursuing a simpler handcrafted feel.

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The Arts & Crafts Movement: Artists Craftsmen & Designers 1890-1930. London: Fine Art Society, 1973.

Bowman, Leslie Green. American Arts and Crafts. Virtue in Design. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1990.

Clark, Robert Judson, ed. The Arts and Crafts Movement in America 1876-1916. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University press, 1972.

Crawford, Alan. "Arts and Crafts Movement." Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. New York: Grove, 1996. (online version is available at some colleges and universities)

Crichton, Laurie W. Book Decoration in America, 1890-1910. A Guide to an Exhibition. Williamstown, Mass.: Williams College, 1979.

Finlay, Nancy. Artists of the Book in Boston, 1890-1910. Cambridge: Harvard College Library, 1985.

Thompson, Susan Otis. American Book Design and William Morris. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1977.

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