by Kate Nixon
As a person who published an 88-page catalog continuing a now 36-year tradition, I’ll be the first to tell you: it is a venture of increasing difficulty and not for the faint of heart. The catalog has remained an annual passion project and that’s where it continues to stand, deepening my unabiding respect and setting the foundation for my own policies in making room in my life for collecting AND creating within this continuing movement. I’m not even waxing poetic when I say passion project because the truth is it takes someone with passion to get something published and distributed these days.
In this increasingly paperless world, digitized archives, the development of Epublication, and the effects of Covid-19 has plunged the print industry into a supply chain storm for the last few years. It’s a bitter pill to swallow especially when locally a nearby paper mill shut down in the city of Canton, NC leaving so many scrambling to get new jobs. When I ask myself “How did we get here?” those are the answers that come to mind, but then I think of Irene Sargeant, Stickley’s editor for The Craftsman and then I think — What would SHE think of all of this?
For those of you who aren’t aware of who Irene Sargeant is, Dr. Sargeant of Syracuse University was an art and architecture historian and writer/editor of Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman Magazine which made her a powerful advocate for the Arts and Crafts Movement. Born Jesse Irene Sargeant in Auburn, New York, her skills as a historian, speaker and influential scholarly writer for the early years of the publication would not only shape the public’s understanding of the movement in the early 20th century, but continues to serve as educational material in periodicals for researchers of the movement to use today.
During her career, which started at Syracuse University to teach French in 1895, she received two honorary degrees from Syracuse University and an honorary membership from the American Institute of Architects for her outstanding contributions to architecture and its allied arts, one of only two women to achieve that distinction. (Reed, 7,8) But by far, her work on the early issues of The Craftsman keep her legacy in the hands of writers, researchers and art historians. While Stickley was certainly known for The Craftsman which bore Stickley’s name as the publisher, the researcher Robert Judson Clark labelled Sargeant as the “initial force behind the publication” and scholar Barry Sanders calls her “the guiding spirit for the magazine’s early years.” (Reed, 8). Sargeant wrote all articles in the first three issues of The Craftsman and wrote the introductory article for all other issues. According to Cleota Reed’s essay “Irene Sargeant: Rediscovering a Lost Legend” in the 1979 issue of Syracuse University’s own publication The Courier, Reed points out that even though Stickley was the publisher, the publication itself was “…Sargeant’s conception. The Craftsman was the leading voice of the Arts & Crafts Movement in America and its voice was Irene Sargeant’s.”
In 1904, shortly after Stickley moved from Syracuse to New York City, Sargent stopped writing for The Craftsman and moved on to the other publications The Keystone, The Colonnade, and even fellow Syracuse University alumna Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s own Keramic Studio.
Not much is known about her personal life, however it is known that she was beloved by her architecture students, who would in her later years, form a human chain to help her down the stairs of her college where she continued to teach. So without knowing much about her personally, I’m sure she’d approach the matter intellectually making sure to the last seven or eight decades as an evolution. While she’d express some disappointment, she might be encouraged by the fact that there continues to be a revival of the movement she loved so much.
The passion for what we do eventually finds a way and many of us will never lose our appreciation of what we can hold in our hand. Letterpress businesses continue to find their way, keeping alive through customized and special interest printings.
So make sure to support the locally made presses in your area and next time you pass your bookcase, think about taking a book out to enjoy. There might have been an Irene Sargeant-like figure involved in the making of that book.
Until next time,
“Never work for money. Work for the love of your art.” – Irene Sargeant
For more reading on Irene Sargeant’s life, check out Cleota Reed’s Irene Sargeant by The Clinker Press or read one of her many articles in an issue of The Craftsman.