Learning from History

One of the things historians often struggle with are beginning and ending dates.

Sometimes we get lucky, such as knowing that the Grove Park Inn opened on Saturday, July 12, 1913, or that the first issue of The Craftsman magazine was released in October of 1901.

Assigning a date or even a year to when the Arts and Crafts movement began in America has always been a bit troublesome, at least to those who like their packages tied up nice and neat. Waiting until The Craftsman came out in 1901 seems a bit too late, especially knowing that Elbert Hubbard had been printing Arts and Crafts books since 1895 under the Roycroft moniker. Similarly, the popular McHugh Chair of 1898 had been patterned after an Arts and Crafts style chair attributed to A. Page Brown and A. J. Forbes for the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco back in 1894 (pictured).

Assigning a date for the end of the Arts and Crafts movement is even more troubling. Early historians selected the symbolic date of the final issue of The Craftsman in December of 1916, but that later was pushed back to the early 1920s, then to the more convenient Stock Market Crash of 1929. But those stubborn Roycrofters hung on until 1938, the highly successful Young family was making furniture based on Stickley designs until World War II, and the Kalo Shop didn’t close until 1970 — about the time Robert Judson Clark was planning the Princeton exhibition, the Arts and Crafts Movement in America, signaling the beginning of the Arts and Crafts Revival.

But did it?

Graduate student John Crosby Freeman wrote the first biography of Gustav Stickley, called The Forgotten Rebel, in 1964, then expanded it into book form in 1966. But he is less likely to be remembered than Robert Judson Clark, although they both had memorable middle names.

Tracing those beginnings and documenting their endings do serve a purpose besides giving those people who have worn out their eyesight squinting to read obscure footnotes and microfilmed newspapers something to do. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” warned George Santayana.

Two of our speakers at the 26th national Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn have been tackling these sticky issues. San Francisco-based writer Timothy Hansen will be presenting his research into the pre-1900 “mission furniture” of California and its influence on the more famous Arts and Crafts furniture designers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Stickley-dominated upstate New York.

Judith Budwig has spent the past year researching and writing about another beginning, namely the Arts and Crafts Revival. Her focus at the Grove Park Inn will be those pivotal two decades from 1972 until 1992 and the roles played by museum exhibitions, auction houses, magazine publishers, and a small conference in North Carolina in the resurrection of the Arts and Crafts movement.

It’s enough to get one thinking….

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!