This is not a post about The Who, or even a story about The Guess Who; but rather a story about influences; influences within the world of Arts and Crafts era furniture. When I design a piece of furniture, I look to the work of some of the leading Arts and Crafts era furnituremakers-Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Greene brothers, and Charles Rene Mackintosh– for inspiration. I’ll pull out reproduction catalogs from “back in the day,” or more modern auction catalogs, or any available book that features pictures of the classic designs. I often draw creative energy from the work of Gustav Stickley. Looking at images of his work has often made me wonder, who influenced his designs? So as a starting point, I thought I’d look at who influenced Gustav Stickley. There is often very little physical evidence of who influenced who. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just open up a diary and read an entry that starts “My work was influenced by….” But that is seldom the case. Often we rely on the interpretation of those who have spent extraordinary time studying various bodies of work. Fortunately for us, their research is generally in-depth, and their arguments sound.
Gustav Stickley’s first, and perhaps deepest influences were John Ruskin and William Morris. Though largely in writing, Ruskin was one of the first to influence Stickley. Ruskin was concerned with the effect the industrial revolution was having on people-both the workers and the consumers. His writings advocated improving the labors’ work-environment and raising the consumers’ awareness of decorative arts. Ruskin believed that creating customers, who better understood the arts, would ultimately raise demand, and create more opportunity for workers. David Cathers in “Furniture of the American Arts and Crafts Movement” captured this when he wrote “Ruskin thought the manufacturer should shape its market, not simply supply it.” Many of Stickley’s business practices demonstrated his acceptance of Ruskin’s philosophies. His attempt to set up his initial manufacturing operation (United Crafts Workshops) as a cooperative guild, and later his implementation of a profit-sharing plan, though largely unsuccessful, demonstrated his concern for the workers environment. Much of Stickley’s writings in The Craftsman and other publications were focused on educating the consumer of the philosophies behind the Arts and Crafts movement, while also imploring them to think of the overall environment that they lived in, and not just the items they were purchasing. The thoughts of William Morris on the Arts and Crafts movement were predominantly in line with Ruskin. He was the first to put them into practice, when in 1861 he formed Morris, Marshal, Faulkner & Co. (later becoming Morris & Company) to produce hand-craft household goods. This ultimately, gave Stickley a working model to study. Morris’ influences on Stickley were documented in the August 1909 issue of The Craftsman, where the article “The Arts and Crafts Movement in America: Work or Play?” advocated the philosophies of William Morris. Publications such as the Syracuse Post Standard and Furniture Journal also noted the similarities between Stickley and Morris’ operations. He also acknowledged his beliefs of Morris’ principle in the forward to the inaugural issue of the Craftsman in October 1901. When we look at the furniture of Gustav Stickley, one of the most documented influences is Charles Rohlfs. Rohlfs Trefoil Table (produced circa 1887), shown below on the left, has many similarities to Stickley’s series of flower tables, shown below on the right. Similar design elements abound between the two designers in their table tops, legs, and cross stretchers.
Joseph Cunningham, in his book “The Artistic Furniture of Charels Rohlfs” discusses other similarities between the designs of Rohlfs and Stickley; notably the cube chair, benches and settles, chests of drawers, and sideboards. The many similarities were noted by the press. The Furniture Journal while reporting about Stickley’s 1900 Grand Rapids exhibit noted: “There are suggestions all through the Stickley line of the things made by Rohlfs. It is stated that Mr. Stickley got his first idea from the Rohlfs furniture…” But as a furnituremaker, who has exhibited in several juried shows, the most compelling evidence to me is that at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, NY; Stickley’s booth was across the aisle from Rohlfs! Having spent many long days in my booth, I can assure you that furnituremakers do indeed study the work of their contemporaries. M.H. Ballie Scott also had a significant influence on the Stickley’s furniture; and like Stickley he was a disciple of the Ruskin and Morris’ writings. Stickley’s directors table (below) is purportedly nearly copied from Baillie Scott.
Sideboards designed by Baillie Scott and Stickley feature similar pointed strap hinges and angled open sides. There are also similarities noted in the chairs of the two designers, including stretcher arrangements and ladder back chair designs. Finally, Harvey Ellis designed furniture also shows great similarity to Voysey-inspired Baillie Scott designs.
So the next time you look at a piece of furniture, ask yourself “who influenced this design?” Think about the flow of influence. Morris, Rohlfs, and Baillie Scott influenced Stickley, and Stickley’s work influenced, among others, Charles and Henry Greene’s early work. And then ask yourself who did the Greene brothers influence; who influenced Morris, Rohlfs, and Baillie Scott. I wonder does it ever really end; is there a beginning or an end to who influenced who?sdfsf To be sure there were others that influenced Stickley–Charles Locke Eastlake, Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, Charles Robert AShbee, and C. F. A. Voysey. To learn more about who influenced Stickley, see:
- David Cathers: Furniture of the American Arts and Crafts Movement
- Joseph Cunningham: The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs
- Stephen Gray and Robert Edwards: Collected Works of Gustav Stickley
- Kevin Rodel and Jonathan Binzen: Arts & Crafts Furniture: From Classic to Contemporary
- Conversations in Western New York: Charles Rohlfs and Gustav Stickley