The main developer of the Arts and Crafts style was William Morris (1834–1896), although the term “Arts and Crafts” was not coined until 1887, when it was first used by T. J. Cobden Sanderson.Morris’s ideas were influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which he had been a part, and from his reading of Ruskin. During 1861 Morris and some of his friends initiated a company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., which, as supervised by the partners, designed and made decorative objects for homes, including wallpaper, textiles, furniture and stained glass. Later it was re-formed as Morris & Co. During 1890 Morris established the Kelmscott Press, for which he designed a typeface based on Nicolas Jenson’s letter forms of the fifteenth century. This printed fine and de-luxe editions of contemporary and historical English literature.
Red House, Bexleyheath, London (1859), designed for Morris by architect Philip Webb, exemplifies the early Arts and Crafts style, with its well-proportioned solid forms, wide porches, steep roof, pointed window arches, brick fireplaces and wooden fittings. Webb rejected the grand classical style, based the design on British vernacular architecture and attempted to express the texture of ordinary materials, such as stone and tiles, with an asymmetrical and quaint building composition.
Morris’s ideas spread during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and resulted in the establishment of many associations and craft communities, although Morris himself was not involved with them because of his preoccupation with socialism. A hundred and thirty Arts and Crafts organizations were formed in Britain, most of them between 1895 and 1905.
The first page of The Nature of Gothic by John Ruskin, printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press during 1892 and set in the Golden type, inspired by the 15th century printer Nicolas Jenson.
During 1881, Eglantyne Louisa Jebb, Mary Fraser Tytler and others initiated the Home Arts and Industries Association to promote and protect rural handicrafts. During 1882, the architect A.H.Mackmurdo formed the Century Guild, a partnership of designers including Selwyn Image, Herbert Horne, Clement Heaton and Benjamin Creswick. During 1884, the Art Workers Guild was initiated by five young architects, William Lethaby, Edward Prior, Ernest Newton, Mervyn Macartney and Gerald C. Horsley, with the goal of integrating design and making. It was directed originally by George Blackall Simonds. By 1890 the Guild had 150 members, representing the increasing number of practitioners of the Arts and Crafts style At the same time the Arts and Craft aesthetic was copied by many designers of decorative products made by conventional industrial methods. The London department store Liberty & Co., initiated during 1875, was a prominent retailer of goods of the style.
In 1885, the Birmingham School of Art became the first Municipal School of Art. The school later became the leading centre for the Arts and Crafts Movement with the help of people such as Henry Payne and Joseph Southall.
During 1887 the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was formed with Walter Crane as president, holding its first exhibition in the New Gallery, London, during November 1888. It was the first show of contemporary decorative arts in London since the Grosvenor Gallery’s Winter Exhibition of 1881. Morris & Co. were well represented in the exhibition with furniture, fabrics, carpets and embroideries. Edward Burne-Jones observed, “here for the first time one can measure a bit the change that has happened in the last twenty years”. The Society still exists as the Society of Designer Craftsmen.
During 1888, C.R.Ashbee, a major late practitioner of the Arts and Crafts style in England, initiated the Guild and School of Handicraft in the East End of London. The Guild was a sort of craft co-operative modelled on the medieval guilds and intended to give working men the satisfactions of craftsmanship. Skilled craftsmen, working on the principles of Ruskin and Morris, were to produce hand-crafted goods and manage a school for young apprentices. The idea was greeted with enthusiasm by almost everyone except Morris himself, who was by now involved with promoting socialism and thought Ashbee’s scheme trivial. From 1888 to 1902 it prospered, employing about fifty men. During 1902 Ashbee relocated the Guild out of London to begin an experimental community in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. The Guild’s work is characterized by plain surfaces of hammered silver, flowing wirework and colored stones in simple settings. Ashbee designed jewellery and silver tableware. At Chipping Campden it flourished creatively, but did not prosper and was liquidated during 1908. Some of the craftsmen stayed, contributing to the tradition of modern craftsmanship in the area.
Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941) was an Arts and Crafts architect, also designing fabrics, tiles, ceramics, furniture and metalwork. His style combined simplicity with sophistication. His wallpapers and textiles, featuring stylised bird and plant forms in bold outlines with flat colors, were used widely. Curiously, he was not a craftsman of any of the materials for which he designed.
Morris’s ideas were adopted by the New Education philosophy during the late 1880s, which incorporated handicraft work in schools such as Abbotsholme (1889) and Bedales (1892), and his influence has been noted in the social experiments of Dartington Hall during the mid twentieth century and in the formation of the Crafts Council during 1973. Morris’s thought also influenced the distributism of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Morris & Co. traded until 1940. Its designs were vended by Sanderson and Co. and some are still in production.
The Oregon Public Library in Oregon, Illinois, U.S. by Pond and Pond, an example of Arts and Crafts building in a Carnegie Library.
The movement also spread to Ireland, representing an important time for the nation’s cultural development, a visual counterpart to the literary revival of the same time and was a publication of Irish nationalism. The Arts and Crafts use of stained glass was popular in Ireland, with Harry Clarke the best-known artist and also Evie Hone. Architects practicing in Ireland included Sir Edwin Lutyens (Heywood House in Co. Laois, Lambay Island and the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin) and Frederick ‘Pa’ Hicks (Malahide Castle estate buildings and round tower). Irish Celtic motifs were popular during the movement in silvercraft, carpet design, book illustrations and hand-carved furniture.
It also had an “extraordinary flowering” in Scotland where it was represented by the development of the ‘Glasgow Style’ which was based on the talent of the Glasgow School of Art. Celtic revival also took hold here, and motifs such as the Glasgow rose became popularised. Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art were to influence others worldwide.
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