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Arts and Crafts Movement Facts and History

Updated on April 13, 2013

Arts and Crafts Movement was a movement allied to political and social reform in England in the second half of the 19th century that advocated fitness for purpose and honesty to materials within the decorative and useful arts and that stressed the vital importance of the craftsperson's satisfaction in his or her labor. Its influence was particularly strong from the 1890s in the United States, Austria, and Germany. Although the movement grew out of the Victorian Gothic Revival, initially embracing the ideal of the medieval craft guild and rejecting industrialization and the use of the machine, by the first decades of the 20th century, the principles of simplicity of form and fitness for purpose had led many designers, notably in Germany, toward mass production ; in fact, the Bauhaus slogan "Prototypes for industry!" had its origins in the Arts and Crafts movement.

The ideological leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement were John Ruskin and William Morris. Morris's ideal of a socialist utopia based on rural craft guilds, which he described in his book News from Nowhere (1890), became allied to nationalism, closeness to nature, and a revival of lost skills and techniques, and spread all over the world. The Art Workers' Guild (founded 1884) and C. R. Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft (1888) in England, the Darmstadt artists' colony (1899) and Deutsche Werkbund (1907) in Germany, the Wiener Werkst├Ątte (1903) in Austria, and Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft Shops (1895) and Gustav Stickley's Craftsman enterprises (1901) in the United States were the most important attempts to put the ideal of the artist-craftsperson into practice.


The house designs of Philip Webb, Richard Norman Shaw, C. F. A. Voysey, and Edwin Lutyens in England and Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene & Greene in the United States established a revival of vernacular domestic architecture. The owners of such houses could shop in London at Morris & Co., founded by Morris in 1861 with the support of the Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, or at Liberty & Co., established in 1875 by Arthur Lasenby Liberty. Many architects designed furniture, textiles, or metalwork, and Arts and Crafts furnishings might include rugs, embroideries, and textiles by William Morris, his daughter May Morris, or, in the United States, Candace Wheeler; ceramic tiles and vessels by, in England, William De Morgan or the Doulton factory, and, in the United States, the Fulper, Grueby, Newcomb College, or Rookwood pottery; or silver, metalwork, wallpapers, and furniture by C. R. Ashbee, Dirk van Erp, the Roycroft Shops, Walter Crane, Rex Silver, M. H. Baillie Scott, Harvey Ellis, or Gustav Stickley, among many other individuals and firms.

Japanese design, first seen in 1862 at the International Exhibition in London and popularized by the Aesthetic movement, was an important stylistic influence on Arts and Crafts designers in Great Britain and the United States, where it was especially evident in the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists. In continental Europe it was absorbed into art nouveau.

The aims of the Arts and Crafts movement were spread through magazines such as The Studio, Hobby Horse, and The Craftsman; by the proliferation of international arts and crafts societies, inspired by the British Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in 1888; and with the establishment of new art schools, which, culminating in the Weimar Bauhaus, put craft skills and design on an equal footing with painting and sculpture and led eventually to modernism in all its guises.

Although devoted to the amelioration of the conditions of the workingman and -woman, the Arts and Crafts movement was essentially a revolution of middle-class taste. Nevertheless, for many it became a way of life and a spiritual quest.


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