What Was the Best Arts & Crafts year – Ever?
Yes, it is a question no one has ever asked me, but that doesn’t matter – I have an answer ready anyway.
Would it be 1901, when Gustav Stickley really got rolling? Perhaps 1910? Or much later? Possibly 1972 and the landmark Princeton Exhibition? Or 1988 and the launch of both Style 1900 magazine and the Grove Park Inn Conference?
I don’t think so. My vote goes to 1904.
The year started with the inauguration of a truly progressive president – Teddy Roosevelt. The 46-year old trust busting, outspoken, liberal, naturalist, author, historian, social reformer and Nobel prize winner was our first and so far our only true Arts & Crafts president. He even challenged Americans to eat better, exercise daily and simplify their lives.
It was a year when you could have walked into the Oak Park office of a young, brash Frank Lloyd Wright and discussed plans for a new home. Spent a weekend at the Roycroft Inn. Or the Mission Inn. Got inspired flipping through the pages of The Craftsman, The Fra, The Philistine, Keramic Studio or House Beautiful.
Elsewhere William Grueby had found his groove, at Rookwood they were stoking three gigantic kilns day and night, L. & J.G. Stickley opened their doors, and down at Newcomb Pottery coeds were hanging Spanish moss from cypress trees.
And in April you could have walked the St. Louis World’s Fair as you hummed a couple of new releases – “Give My Regards To Broadway” or “Yankee Doodle Boy” – and enjoyed either of two new culinary delights: iced tea and ice cream cones.
And, of course, while you were there you could have picked up a vase from Grueby, Rookwood or Van Briggle. Or from George Ohr – but he and his brightly painted wagon were camped out in the parking lot.
Then you could have stayed in St. Louis and caught the first Olympic games held in the United States – and watched America’s best athletes capture 21 gold medals out of 22 events.
At home you could have read Jack London’s new thriller Sea Wolf. Or read O. Henry’s latest collection of short stories, listened to Scott Joplin, caught Will Rogers’ comedy act or have seen a young Boston Red Sox pitcher named Cy Young throw the first ever perfect game.
It was quite a year – especially for the Arts & Crafts world.
Until next Monday,
– Bruce Johnson