by Kate Nixon
Once in a while, I get a tip about an Arts and Crafts auction or event that comes out of left field. While I am certainly enthusiastic about the idea of the American handcrafted being studied overseas, I was pleasantly surprised to see an auction entitled “Arts and Crafts – Made In America” from a French auction house through a liveauctioneers.com tip. The small collection was made up of Charles Limbert, Gustav Stickley, Charles Stickley, and L.G. Stickley furniture. The Invaluable website noted the smaller Arts and Crafts collection as being part of a larger auction, lumping in the small collection with works from Alexander Calder and American Design. Naturally, I went to the auction house’s (Piasa) website for clarification where I found a catalog…in French.
Not to be deterred by the barrier of foreign language, I simply copied the text into Google translate from French to English and found immediate translation. The following is the catalog description of furniture maker Charles Limbert as there are a number of Limbert furniture listed in the catalog for auction. While largely sticking to the brief biography of Limbert’s life and indicating that his works fall in line with the durability and simple design that this style is known for, the editorial did remark on the meaningful and progressive effect the philosophy had on the workplace and noted Limbert’s factory in the following quote.
“No Michigan factory probably cannot boast more proudly of its know-how, of the general layout of its factory and its equipment for the comfort of its employees.”
I wasn’t sure if this was just a bad translation, but note the translated phrase: “Although labor reform is not a priority for the American Arts and Crafts Movement…” The English origins of the movement were created on the rejection of the Industrial era specifically the mechanization of home decor and traveled to America with that idea in mind. The furniture factories were created and dedicated to keeping up with supply and demand of the popular style, but these factories were not akin in atmosphere to their Industrial era counterparts and advocated for better environments, knowing full well that machines were replacing workers all over the country.
Did the French do justice to explaining Limbert’s role in the Arts & Crafts Movement? The use of historic images of the factory and advertisements of both Limbert and Stickley products would certainly provide evidence that they did try.
Exploring further into the catalog, I found the page on Gustav Stickley – the phrase « Au seul mot “beauté”, il convient de substituer “la beauté de la simplicité” » at the top. That translates into “For the single word “beauty”, it is appropriate to substitute “the beauty of simplicity.” It is always interesting to see how other countries interpret our Arts and Crafts movement.
Perhaps a collector out there knows whose collection is being auctioned off? Nowhere in the catalog does it mention any information about the prior owner of said Limbert and Stickley furniture.
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Until next time…