Tales of the Bizarre – Arts & Crafts Style

One of the benefits of doing research is coming across all sorts of unusual (or is it ‘useless’ ?) information about the Arts & Crafts pioneers we often place on pedestals. But one of the advantages of having this website is that we can use that information as a reminder that behind those famous names were real people with real life experiences.

Sometimes bizarre, but real.

Here are ten for you to ponder:

Respected Roycroft coppersmith Karl Kipp (pictured below) had once been convicted of bank fraud and served nearly four years (1904-1908) in federal prison. Upon his release in Georgia, he took a train to East Aurora, New York, having heard that Elbert Hubbard was willing to employ ex-convicts.

Upon his death in 1954, Karl Kipp was cremated, but his family never claimed his ashes. For nearly fifty years they remained wrapped in heavy brown paper in the basement of a funeral home, until unearthed in 2003 by Doug McFarland, a Roycroft collector and historian. Fittingly, Karl rode back to East Aurora on Doug’s front seat.

Speaking of Roycrofters, in 1894 Elbert Hubbard fathered a daughter by his secret mistress, Alice Moore. Less than two years later he then fathered a second daughter by his wife, Bertha, who eventually divorced him. He kept his mistress and first daughter secret for nearly ten years — until Alice Moore sued him for child support. They were married in 1904.

Once Alice Moore Hubbard arrived at Roycroft, she started wearing the pants of the family. When Copper Shop foreman Karl Kipp asked for a raise in 1911 (just before the big Grove Park Inn commission), Alice showed him the door. Kipp was followed down the street by first assistant Walter Jennings, where they opened their own copper shop. Hubbard’s son convinced the two men to return in 1915 – but only after Elbert and Alice had drowned aboard the Lusitania.

Elbert Hubbard was convicted in 1913 of publishing “obscene, lewd and lascivious” material in print. His crime: he printed an off-color joke in The Philistine. As part of his punishment, the judge revoked his passport. It required a special pardon from President Wilson to restore it. Had the President refused or even delayed his last minute request, Alice and Elbert Hubbard could not have boarded the Lusitania…..

And speaking of wives, English philosopher John Ruskin may have been called The Father of the Arts & Crafts Movement, but not by his only wife, Effie Gray, who divorced him on grounds he had never been able to consummate their six-year marriage. Offended by the charge, Ruskin offered to prove his virility to the judge. We think the judge declined. Effie took up with one of Ruskin’s students and bore him eight children.

William Gallimore, a tile designer who worked at the Trent Tile Company in Trenton, New Jersey, had his right arm blown off when a gun he was firing exploded. A sardonic pottery critic wrote in 1909, “Since the loss of his arm, Mr. Gallimore has done his modeling with his left hand, and he has accomplished better work with one arm than he did when in possession of both.”

Frank Lloyd Wright was known to have taken prospective clients unannounced into homes he had previously designed — often directing his apprentices to rearrange the owners’ furnishings to his liking.

When Wright added a room to his Oak Park home, he built one wall and the ceiling around a large tree limb. The roof, like many Wright designed, leaked.

Stories of Gustav Stickley refusing to speak to his younger brother and furniture competitor Leopold were greatly exaggerated — until 1935 when, as a 66-year-old widower, Leopold married his live-in caretaker, Louise, who also happened to be his niece.

Bizarre, but real.

Have one to add to our list? Send it along.

I’ll print more in coming weeks.

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!

– Bruce

“People don’t collect Arts & Crafts because it’s different. They collect Arts & Crafts because they’re different.”