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The Arts and Crafts Movement in the American Midwest

 

Arts and Crafts in the Midwest


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The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Midwest

The Arts and Crafts Movement quickly became popular in the Midwest, first among the intellectuals who were involved in Jane Addams's Hull House in Chicago. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the founding members of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society (founded at Hull House in 1897), and he lectured there on the philosophical issues of the movement. Other Arts and Crafts societies were formed in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, and even Toledo. But Americans in general, and Midwesterns in particular, did not believe that man must do away with the machine in order to achieve the ideals of the movement. Even Wright agreed, as he expressed in his 1901 Hull House lecture, "The Art and Craft of the Machine." The effective utilization of the machine led the Midwest to become the country's largest center for the dissemination of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic.

Popular magazines like House Beautiful (published in Chicago beginning in 1896) promoted the Arts and Crafts style. Its largely female audience desired to copy the style, but in an affordable manner. Manufacturers quickly moved to meet the demand. Builders pirated Wright's Prairie School home designs and bungalow styles from Stickley's Craftsman magazine and began selling them through catalogs. The growing middle class could buy a house modeled after those by well-known architects as a kit through Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward. It they wanted they could build it themselves, or hire a local builder to do it for them-all for less than $1000.

The boom in Arts and Crafts architecture helped to fuel a boom in Arts and Crafts furniture. Arts and Crafts furniture was copied and marketed for the masses by Midwestern manufacturers located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The factories copied the best design elements of Roycroft and Stickley and sold their furniture through catalogs and department stores. While the furniture looked handcrafted, it was produced using the techniques of machine-made mass production. Some of the lower quality goods even carried the Stickley name, as Gustav's brother Albert began producing cheap "Stickley" furniture from a Grand Rapids factory in 1902.

Cheaper production methods also helped popularize Arts and Crafts pottery, tapestries, metalwork, and other decorative arts. Even the book arts were marketed to a mass audience.

Ironically, the Midwestern version of the Arts and Crafts Movement was more successful on one level than the version promoted by the British purists like William Morris. By favoring mass production methods using machines over handcrafted ones, Midwestern Arts and Crafts were affordable to the working classes. The working classes may not have understood the intellectual underpinnings of the movement, but they grew to appreciate the simplicity of form and integrity of material. By utilizing the machine, the Arts and Crafts Movement of the Midwest may have favored style over substance, but it was a style that could be appreciated by all, both rich and poor.


Selected Item Descriptions

Jane Addams. Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: MacMillan Company, 1910.

Hull House, located in a poor Chicago neighborhood, was a Progressive Movement project dedicated to the education and improvement of the immigrant working classes. It was also the home of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society, founded there in 1897. Members of the Society helped the poor to "express the best they can in wood or metal."

C. M. Woodward. The Manual Training School, Comprising a Full Statement of Its Aims, Methods, and Results. Boston, MA: D. C. Heath & Co., 1887.

Manual training schools and industrial arts training were particular interests of American Arts and Crafts proponents. Such training provided an opportunity for young people, especially those from the lower classes, to learn the skills of the artist/craftsman. Woodward, the director of the Manual Training School in St. Louis, was the leading expert on manual training, and this volume highly praised the Toledo school.

Bulletin of Information, Toledo University Annual Announcement, 1905-1906.

The Manual Training Department of Toledo University offered wood design and construction classes emphasizing the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Interestingly, the classes were taught by a woman.


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An Exhibit at the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, Carlson Library, The University of Toledo.

March 26th-June 30th, 1999.

Last Updated: 1/3/12