|Pendleton Woolen Mills ad with a homey interior, 1910 catalog.|
The Daily Glean frowns on the old bait and switch, but the book guest poster Karen Mulder chose to write about today—The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest by Lawrence Kreisman and Glenn Mason—was so popular it sold out before we could get her blog up! We do hope you enjoy her well-informed survey of the topic, and will take a look at similar titles suggested at the end.
Well into the 1940s, many West Coast artists often gave up opportunities to send their work into the art markets of New York, Boston or Philadelphia because they couldn’t afford the ticket fare, or feared that their prized pieces might be damaged or even lost during the long journey east and back. California architects barely received a nod from the east until the 1970s, even though the M.I.T.-trained Greene brothers made quite an impact with magnificent cribs like Pasadena’s Gamble House, and Frank Lloyd Wright plus sons augmented the scene. But they were transplants, after all.
|Pattern book for china painters, Keramic Studio, 1916.|
While there is always much to love about the entire Arts and Crafts ethos—hammered coppers, naturalistic but pleasantly flattened lines and forms, useful yet well-designed items, and homey spaces—history’s narrative tells us that William Morris’ idealistic, socialist dream for art of the ‘heart, head and hand’ that made society better for everyone through better design was a failure. Morris’ products, in the end, were deemed elitist rather than affordable, and did little to advance the lives of the lower or middle classes. Like Art Nouveau, which started a few decades after Morris’ design reform, the horrors of World War I put the kibosh on purely decorative art, with the final nails in the coffin supplied by the subsequent economic depression. Then, in this country, the Colonial Revival overtook the utopian, rusticatin’ notions of the Roycrofters and other communitarians by the mid-1920s, riding along on a swell of postwar patriotic fervor.
The Pacific Northwest experienced the same timeline, but cycled through the movement in relative obscurity—a gap that the authors, Kreisman and Mason, expose in their campaign to boost the region’s profile.
|Postcard of forestry pavilion ‘made of Oregon logs,’ Lewis and Clark Centennary Expo, 1905.|
Mining the region’s distinctions, the authors suggest that the coast’s geographical orientation naturally faces the Pacific Rim, which in essence makes the cultural assimilation of Asian design more likely, even though that trend had widely affected the Western arts ever since Japan opened its port to Commodore Perry. On top of this, examples of the region’s Native American and particularly Alaskan indigenous arts abounded, nicely dovetailing with the movement’s tendency to update or refine traditional design motifs.
|Will Ransom’s 1901 bookplate for Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.”|
|Assemblage of locally available items in early 20th century, mostly from author Glenn Mason’s collection.|
Kreisman and Mason correctly frame the importance of publications as transmitters of design, referring constantly to Ladies Home Journal and House Beautiful as essential visual promoters for the Arts and Crafts wave. Of course, the time-honored practice of extracting floor plans and facades out of plan books often leads to very ‘flat’ reiterations of the original projects illustrated, and the authors don’t try to gloss over this. On the other hand, they stress that the temporary architectural follies at fairs and expos allowed budding designers not just to see, but to experience spatial constructions and details. For example, the plaster-and-straw stage set of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago galvanized the City Beautiful movement, ultimately reformulating showpiece cities like Washington, D.C. in the Beaux Arts style. San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific expo, on the heels of the city’s devastating earthquake, showcased neoclassicism, while San Diego’s Panama-Californian expo that same year, in Balboa Park, made Spanish Colonial or Mission style the ‘go-to’ fashion to represent California’s distinctive identity. Oregon and Washington’s pavilions on these fairgrounds often evinced a kind of cultural confusion about state identities, showing off the wood trade with Swiss chalet-styled buildings, overblown shingle bungalows, and even classical temple facades flawlessly built out of good Oregon fir or Washington cedar, with Alaskan totem poles thrown in here and there for good measure. But to their credit, Kreisman and Mason augment the typical timeline of important expositions with the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centenary, in Portland, and the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific expo, describing in detail two regionally significant events that get short shrift elsewhere.
|Watercolor of tile and fresco design, Kirtland Cutter, c. 1910.|
Art and architectural historian Karen L. Mulder’s favorite self-designed seminar for the Corcoran College of Art + Design (Washington, D.C.) traces various offshoots of the British Arts and Crafts movement to reveal how marketing strategies impact design in the 19th and 20th centuries, eventually culminating in … IKEA.
Related Reading: The Art of Craft: Contemporary Works from the Saxe Collection; Decorative Arts and Architecture of the 1920s; Bringing Modernism Home: Ohio Decorative Arts, 1890–1960.