Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Arts and Crafts movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement is the name given to a reformist movement at first inspired by the writings of John Ruskin that was at its height ca 1880-1910. The movement influenced British decorative arts, architecture, furniture design, crafts and even the 'cottage' garden designs of William Robinson or Gertrude Jekyll. Its main publicists were William Morris, Charles Robert Ashbee and Walter Crane. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The Arts and Crafts movement was part of the major English aesthetic movement of the last years of the 19th century.

The Arts and Crafts Movement began primarily as a search for authentic and meaningful styles for the 19th century and as a reaction to the eclectic historicism of the Victorian era and to 'soulless' machine-made production aided by the Industrial Revolution. Considering the machine to be the root cause of all evils, the protagonists of this movement turned completely away from the use of machines and towards handcraft, which tended to concentrate their productions in the hands of sensitive but well-heeled patrons. Though the spontaneous personality of the designer became more central than the historical 'style' of a design, certain tendencies stood out: reformist Gothic influences, rustic and 'cottagey' surfaces, repeating designs, vertical and elongated forms. In order to express the beauty inherent in craft, some of the products were deliberately left slightly unfinished, resulting in a certain rustic and robust effect. There were also sentimental Socialist undertones to this movement in that another primary aim was for people to derive satisfaction from what they do. This satisfaction, the proponents of this movement felt, was totally denied in compartmentalised machine production.

The Red House, Bexleyheath, London (1859), by architect Philip Webb for William Morris himself, is a work exemplary of this movement. There is a deliberate attempt at expressing surface textures of ordinary materials such as stone, tiles, etc., with an asymmetrical and quaint building composition. William Morris formed the Kelmscott Press and also had a shop where he designed and sold products such as wall paper, textiles, furniture etc.

Widely exhibited in Europe, the Arts and Crafts Movement's qualities of simplicity and truthful expression negating historicism inspired designers like Henry van de Velde and movements such as Art Nouveau, the Dutch De Stijl group, Viennese Secessionstil and eventually the Bauhaus.

In the United States, it spawned complimentary and sympathetic movements such as the 'Mission' furniture of Gustave Stickley, the 'Prairie School' architects and designers round the youthful Frank Lloyd Wright, and Craftsman style studio pottery, exemplified by Rookwood pottery emphasized the craftsman's touch.