The Noble Craftsmen We Promote:

The Arts and Crafts Movement in the American Midwest


Arts and Crafts in Exterior Design

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Arts and Crafts Exterior Designs

As the parlor gave way at the turn of the century to the simpler living room, so too did the formal garden give way to a simpler, more natural garden setting. The major emphasis of Arts and Crafts gardens was a celebration of nature. Nature was not to be kept in a strictly constructed, confined and separate area, but was to unite the inside and outside of the home in a free-flowing manner.

Gardening was a booming business at the start of the twentieth century, as evidenced by the popularity of garden clubs. Consumers could buy a wide variety of seeds from mail-order catalogs. Public water systems made water plentiful and easy to apply to gardens, and fertilizers and pesticides could be commonly purchased.

The leaders of the Arts and Crafts garden movement were English landscape architects William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. They criticized the formal, structured, and inhibiting plans of traditional nineteenth century gardens in favor of more wild, simple plans. They advocated for using native plants that could be grown up next to a home's foundation, with no need to keep plants back behind cast-iron fences. Gustav Stickley, in The Craftsman, featured many articles on this new approach to gardening, stressing utility, economy of effort, and natural beauty. Less tended gardens appealed to the middle class, who had less time for gardening.

Garden decoration changed too. Statues, common to nineteenth-century gardens, were replaced with natural-looking terra cotta pots. Useful garden structures like lattices, arbors, and pergolas were used as both decoration and as plant supports. These structures were often painted green to further connect and blend them with nature.

The pergola became the major architectural component of Arts and Crafts gardens. These large, open and airy structures were connected to the home and served as trellises for spreading vines, thus creating an outdoor room. They were often decorated with furniture produced by the Old Hickory Company and its competitors. Old Hickory was the furniture of choice for outdoor rooms and country homes. While machine made, it looked as if it was hand hewed from hickory branches, and was popular because of its rustic look and natural elements. Old Hickory lines included porch and gardens suites, benches, tables, and lawn swings. Many of the outdoor furniture designs were copied from mission-style designs, and included slat backs and sides.

Selected Item Descriptions

Shirley Hibberd. Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste. London: Groomsbridge and Sons, 1887.

Victorian gardens were very different from the gardens of Arts and Crafts homes. As the opulence of the cover of this work shows, Victorian gardens were highly stylized with fountains, statues, carpet beddings, and clipped topiary. Gardens were formal structures. Each planting was carefully placed to fulfill the overall elaborate scheme.

Samuel Parsons, Jr. Landscape Gardening. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900.

Parsons, superintendent of parks for New York City, produced this book which contained many suggestions for a more relaxed, natural looking garden typical of the Arts and Crafts look. Unlike Victorian garden planners who focused on only the height of summer lushness in their plantings, Parsons produced a plan for each of the seasons that would provide for beauty all year round. He also urged gardeners to plant "nookeries," or small garden spots of natural plantings that were quaint and simple. "One of the peculiarities of these pleasant corners, whether in garden or woodland, is that it may be said, almost, that the more you plant and the less you cultivate and cut with sickle, scythe, and pruning knife, the more surely you attain the end desired."

Frances Kinsley Hutchinson. Our Country Home: How We Transformed a Wisconsin Woodland. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1907.

Arts and Crafts followers loved country homes because they were more natural in their setting. This book is the story of how one family built their country home, and encouraged others to try the same. Chapter VIII dealt with the home's elaborate pergola, 250 feet in length and made out of tree limbs with the bark left on. In the summer and fall, the pergola served as an outdoor room as meandering vines grew over the roof.

Home Beautifying Suggestions. The Whitten-Ackerman Nurseries, Bridgeman, Michigan, ca. 1920.

Just as catalog retailers marketed home kits to consumers, nurseries began marketing home gardens. The Whitten-Ackerman catalog provided planting schemes which gardeners could follow and easily place their order for shipment. The black and white photos were colored with green to emphasize the potential beauty of garden plantings. "The Bungalow Adorned" displayed how shrubs and trees planted near the home could provide a natural setting for a simple house.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company, Porch Lawn and Cottage Furniture catalog, ca. 1904 and 1926. New York: Dover Publications Reprint, 1991. Edited by Victor M. Linoff.

The Old Hickory Furniture Company of Martinsville, Indiana and several competitors, including the Rustic Hickory Furniture Company of LaPorte, Indiana, produced popular outdoor furniture during this era. Hickory furniture, while it looked handmade, was actually made by machine like most other Arts and Crafts furniture. It copied many mission features and replicated them in hickory, including a simplified Morris chair.

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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: 6/27/22