The Arts and Crafts movement has always provided a cozy home for paradox. English philosophical roots that are ground in craftsmanship attained by bringing the artist and craftsman back together; is juxtaposed by its American evolution that could not have existed without mass production. Stickley’s vision of affordable quality furniture for the middle class serving as early inspiration for Greene & Greene’s furniture; which could only be enjoyed by very privileged Americans. And Charles Rohlfs’ furniture-which looks nothing like the images normally conjured up when one thinks Arts and Crafts furniture– fits nicely into this paradoxical framework.
Rohlfs began making furniture in the mid 1880’s and is said to have influenced the work of Gustav Stickley. While there are obvious similarities to traditional Arts and Crafts furniture– he worked mainly in oak, and used a classical Arts and Crafts dark finish; there are also sharp contrasts. He was not a follower of Ruskin or Morris’ philosophies, he freely applied ornamentation to his furniture, and would not hesitate to reject traditional craftsmanship. In fact, there are those who argue his furniture is more art, than furniture; and many have argued it is more Art Nouveau than Arts and Crafts.
Regardless of which label or category you place Rohlfs in, there is consensus that his furniture has passed the test of time, can and does provide inspiration to furnituremakers, and is still sought out by collectors’ today.
Recent auction results include: Cottone Auction
To learn more about Charles Rohlfs pick up The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs by Joseph Cunningham.