Forest Craft Guild Remains Elusive, But Rewarding
A reader sent me this photograph last week, along with a request for a copy of one of the early editions of the Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference catalog. It seems that ARK Antiques had included a full-page ad that included a brooch very similar to his. Neither brooch was marked, but both were believed to have been made by the Forest Craft Guild in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Thanks to collector, dealer, scholar and author Don Marek (Arts & Crafts Furniture Design: The Grand Rapids Contribution, 1895-1915, plus Grand Rapids Art Metalwork: 1902-1918), information about the firm which had been founded by Forest Mann (1879-1959) has been tracked down, organized and preserved for all Arts & Crafts collectors.
Trained by Arthur Wesley Dow at the Pratt Institute (1902), the multi-talented Forest Mann taught classes in ceramics, wood carving and jewelry making. A 1906 article reported his preference for semi-precious stones set in sterling silver, which resulted in higher prices than many of his competitors. Ironically, Gustav Stickley, whose own furniture was considered among the most expensive of his time, thought the prices “unreasonable.”
Mann had already responded to these complaints by designing a less expensive line of jewelry, which he had begun producing in his new (1905) business, the Forest Craft Guild. A 1909 article mentions their work in silver, gold, copper and brass, some with semi-precious stones, including a wide range of jewelry, desk sets, trays, candlesticks, lamp shades, leather purses, jewelry boxes and “various other things in which the opportunity for originality and artistic handiwork is to be found” with a wide range of design influences.
At its peak the Forest Craft Guild employed as many as thirty-two people, though that number dropped after 1914. Mann served a variety of roles at the Guild’s studios in Grand Rapids, including that of foreman, designer and instructor, even though he also spent a great deal of time living in New York City, where he gained famed as an artist whose personal style favored the post-impressionists.
Collecting Forest Craft Guild work has been made more challenging by their inconsistent use of shopmarks. Mann himself often appears to have had little inclination to sign even his own work. A few pieces have the block lettering “Forest Craft Guild,” others just the initials “FCG,” but as Don Marek reports, “Only a few of the Forest Craft Guild pieces were marked.”
Fortunately for us, however, Don Marek has included photographs of scores of pieces known to have been produced by Forest Mann and the craftsmen and craftswomen at Forest Craft Guild in his book Grand Rapids Art Metalwork (1999).
I should note, though, that this hardback book was privately printed and published by Don Marek, so only a limited number of copies remain. The level of scholarship, detail and accuracy evident in it guarantees that it will soon become a collector’s item in and of itself.
For information on Grand Rapids Art Metalwork, see the listing for it in the Books section of The Marketplace here at ArtsandCraftsCollector.com.