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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Craftsman or Arts and Crafts, style of furniture has been somewhat maligned in many woodworking circles recently.  Many modern craftsmen are more interested in either much more ornate adornments as seen in Period furniture, or modern style furniture featuring little ornamentaion, but featuring complex curves, twists, and few straight lines. My personal taste falls more towards straight lines, but simple construction.

I've been a fan of Craftsman furniture for quite some time now.  I guess because I'm kind of a basic person.  To me, a well made joint is a beautiful thing, and Craftsman highlights joinery better than any style of furniture I've seen.

The Arts and Crafts Movement began in England during what we now refer to as the Victorian era.  People like John Ruskin and William Morris distrusted the industrialization of their country.  Morris believed that industrialization "alienated labor and created a dehumanizing distance between the designer and manufacturer." (

Here in the United States, Morris became the one many architects looked to for inspiration.  As with most other styles, furniture design went hand in hand with architecture.  Perhaps the most famous Arts and Crafts furniture designers in the eastern U.S. were the Stickley brothers, Leopold and Gustav.  It was the Stickleys who really made the Craftsman style famous.

Like many others, the Stickleys were inspired by William Morris, whose Morris chair is a well known design.
Their designs also became known as Mission style due to the influence of furniture found in old Spanish missions in the American west.  They worked mainly in quartersawn white oak, but also used other species.  The hallmark of Stickley designs was the highlighting of joinery with the intent of glorifying the craftsman.  As a result, the style became one for anyone to use in his home.

"Stickley furniture was not for shutting up in formal parlors—it was to be used and loved by
young and old.:

This is probably my favorite thing about the style.  It was meant to be used.  By using thick pieces of wood and rock solid joinery in the construction, a heavy-duty piece was created.  The grain of the wood is allowed to take the forefront in the design without ornate carvings to draw the eye.  Exposed joinery is actually highlighted, rather than hidden, giving a nod to the person in the shop building the piece.

I certainly don't intend to tell anyone what they should like.  Instead, what I'm trying to say is think critically about why you do or don't like something.  Instead of just saying "That's ugly" or "I like that," think about what it is about something you do or don't like.  Is it the lines, ornamentation, negative space?  What I find most appealing about Craftsman furniture is the simplicity.  What do you like or dislike about it?

I thought it would be fun to learn a bit about where the style came from.  Obviously this is just a brief summary of the Arts and Crafts movement.  I realize I left out Greene and Greene, Frank Lloyd Wright, and probably other well known people in the movement, but who wants to read a 20 page blog post?  I also wanted to explain a bit about why I chose Craftsman as the style for my table.

The parts for the table are rough cut, and waiting to be put through the jointer and planer.  The fun begins this week. Of course, I'd love to hear what you think.  Please leave a comment, positive or negative.  Thanks for reading.

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