Arts & Crafts Movement: Craftsman VS. Machine

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When men and women are rightly occupied, amusement grows out of their work…emotions become steady, deep, perpetual, and vivifying to the soul as the natural pulse to the body. Now, having no true business, we pour our whole energy into the false business of money-making…having no true emotion, we must have false emotions dressed up for us to play with. John Ruskin—Sesame and Lilies, 1865.

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A Social and A Design Philosophy

The writings of art critic John Ruskin and architect Augustus Pugin ignited the Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris. Its emphasis on handcrafted design became an international movement, developing between 1880 and 1910. Its influence continued well into the 1930s. Not just a style, it was a way of living founded on Utopian ideals. Much of the philosophy was based on the medieval concept of celebrating the central role of craftsmen and the elevation of craft to fine art. Proponents thought of ‘the craftsman’ as free and creative because he worked with his hands. In contrast, ‘the machine’ was soulless, repetitive, and inhuman. Craftsman Style, as it became known when it migrated to the United States, is currently experiencing a revival among young upwardly mobile urban dwellers.

Some Craftsman Neighborhoods Still Intact in Texas

Chambers Architects recently designed a Craftsman home for clients currently living in California and relocating to DFW. In doing the research for their home’s architecture and interiors, we became fervent supporters not only of the aesthetics of the movement, but the philosophy by behind its development. Tyler Willmann, a San Antonio realtor with Keller Williams, gave us a tour of Mahncke Park in San Antonio where many charming Craftsman bungalows remain intact. Mahncke Park, a neighborhood near Brackenridge Park on the city’s north side, has recently been divided over whether to move forward with historic designation because of the restrictions these designations often place on efforts to remodel a home. Signs against the designation can be seen in the photographic gallery (below). Belmont is a neighborhood in Dallas successful in obtaining historic designation in order to retain the vintage craft character of its homes and community.

John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, an art patron, writer, draftsman, watercolorist, prominent social thinker and philanthropist.

Concept by Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc. for a new Dallas area Craftsman style home

Origins of the Movement in England

By the mid-nineteenth century, cheap factory-made goods had almost entirely driven away hand craftsmen and women from their trades. The old techniques of making well-crafted, elegant objects by hand were nearly lost. The term “arts and crafts” was coined in England around this time to describe the revival in the decorative arts. The Arts and Crafts Movement held at its core the ideal that the handmade object was both beautiful and useful in everyday life. Its philosophy derived partially from Ruskin’s social criticism, which related the moral and social health of a nation to the qualities of its architecture and to the nature of work.

Ruskin considered the sort of mechanized labor in the industrial revolution to be “servile.” He felt healthy societies required independent workers who designed things and made them by hand. Followers of the movement favored craft production over industrial manufacturing and were troubled by the ethics and effects of the factory system on workers.

The aesthetic and social vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement also derived its ideas from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of the 1850s. The Brotherhood was formed by a group of friends at the University of Oxford, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and some of Burne-Jones’ associates from Birmingham at Pembroke College, who became known as the Birmingham Set. The Birmingham Set had first-hand experience of modern industrial society and combined their love of the Romantic literature of Tennyson, Keats and Shelley with a commitment to social reform. By 1855 they had discovered the writings of John Ruskin and, conscious of the contrast between the barbarity of contemporary culture and the art of the middle ages, in particular the art preceding Raphael (1483-1530), they formed themselves into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to pursue their literary and artistic aims.

The Arts and Crafts Movement developed and was most fully realized in the British Isles, then spread across the British Empire to the rest of Europe and North America. It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often applied a vocabulary of Gothic, romantic, folk, organic and natural motifs into stylized patterns. It advocated economic and social reform, and was essentially anti-industrial. The objects fabricated were simple in form, without superfluous or excessive decoration, and how they were constructed was often still visible. They tended to emphasize the qualities of the materials used and the principle of “truth to the material.”

William Morris, English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and social activist was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textiles and the Arts and Crafts Movement. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre.

Craftsman in the United States

In the United States, the Arts and Crafts style initiated a variety of attempts to reinterpret European Arts and Crafts ideals for Americans. These included the “Craftsman”-style architecture, furniture, and other decorative arts such as designs promoted by Gustav Stickley in his magazine, The Craftsman and designs produced on the Roycroft campus as publicized in Elbert Hubbard’s The Fra. Both men used their magazines as a vehicle to promote the goods produced with the Craftsman workshop in Eastwood, NY and Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft campus in East Aurora, NY. A host of imitators of Stickley’s furniture, the designs of which are often mislabeled the “Mission Style,” included three companies established by his brothers.

Craftsman fireplace on which Chambers Architects based their design for the great room in a home near Dallas, Texas. It features an oak mantel and handmade Arts & Crafts tiles from North Prairie Tileworks. Teco pottery, on top, is from the period.

Arts and Crafts ideals disseminated in America through journal and newspaper writing and were supplemented by societies that sponsored lectures and programs. The first was organized in Boston in the late 1890s, when a group of influential architects, designers, and educators determined to bring to America the design reforms begun in Britain by William Morris. They met to organize an exhibition of contemporary craft objects. The first American Arts and Crafts Exhibition began on April 5, 1897, at Copley Hall, Boston featuring more than 1000 objects made by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women.

The “Prairie School” of Frank Lloyd Wright, George Washington Maher and other architects in Chicago, the Country Day School movement, the bungalow and ultimate bungalow style of houses popularized by Greene and Greene, Julia Morgan, and Bernard Maybeck are some examples of the American Arts and Crafts and American Craftsman style of architecture. Restored and landmark-protected examples are still present in America, especially in California in Berkeley and Pasadena, and the sections of other towns originally developed during the era and not experiencing post-war urban renewal. Mission Revival, Prairie School, and the ‘California bungalow’ styles of residential building remain popular in the United States today.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Arts and Crafts ideals had influenced architecture, painting, sculpture, graphics, illustration, book making and photography, domestic design and the decorative arts, including furniture and woodwork, stained glass, leatherwork, lacemaking, embroidery, rug making and weaving, jewelry and metalwork, enameling and ceramics.

A new Craftsman style home near Celina, Texas by Chambers Architects in the mid-construction phase

Characteristics of the Style in Residential Architecture

  • 1-2 stories
  • Low-pitched roof, hipped, gabled, sometimes with a clipped gable. Rooflines often complex and cross-gabled.
  • Broad eaves
  • Knee braces, exposed rafter tails and beams, elaborated rafter ends and verge boards, occasionally roof ridge finials are seen
  • Natural materials indigenous to location
  • Open floor plan
  • Dormers: shed, gabled, hipped, sometimes in combination
  • Fireplace, brick or native stone
  • Handcrafted, built-in cabinetry including buffets, bookcases, colonnades
  • Unique custom features such as inglenooks and window seats
  • Craftsman-designed hardware, lighting, and tile work by notable design houses: Roycroft, Batchelder, and Yellin
  • Broad covered porches
  • Windows, double-hung, multiple lights over single pane below. Multiple windows appear together in banks. Casement windows are also seen.
  • Shingle, lapped, and stucco siding is common.
  • Attention to Detail
  • Simplicity

Honest details that reflect the true construction of an object and not covered or hidden by decoration is a hallmark of the Craftsman style and the design aesthetic of Stephen B. Chambers Architects’ home design.

Reference sources for this research: Judith Miller Arts & Crafts, Dorlng Kindersley Limited Publishers; In The Arts & Crafts Style, Chronicle Books; Arts & Crafts Furniture, The Taunton Press.

To find Craftsman style bungalows and homes for sale in San Antonio, contact Tyler Willmann at this link: http://www.kwsanantonio.com/our-agents/tyler-willmann/

All photography in the San Antonio gallery of homes, below, by Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects