A Brief history of Arts & Crafts

Because they expose, rather than hide, the joinery, through tenons are often used in Arts & Crafts furniture to celebrate the craftsman’s work.

Q:

I see a lot of projects in WOOD® magazine and other publications labeled as “Arts & Crafts.” What makes a piece “Arts & Crafts?”
—Peter Ensley, Pineville, Ky.

A:

Good question, Peter. The Arts & Crafts movement was a mid-19th-century reaction in England against what was seen as superfluously decorated furniture, art, and architecture. The movement sought instead to emphasize simple, solid, artisan-crafted pieces rather than factory-spewed ornamentation.

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Stickley prized quartersawn white oak for its straight grain that accentuated clean lines and straightforward construction.

The movement’s principal proponent in England, textile-maker William Morris, derived his designs from medieval or gothic patterns, creating solidly built furniture and simple repeating-design fabrics, wallpaper, and stained glass.

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Charles and Henry Greene’s take on American Arts & Crafts—known as “Greene and Greene”—features “cloud lift” details and exposed ebony plugs.

Gustav Stickley, an American designer, became a proponent of the style after a visit to England. His architecture and furniture designs simplified the forms even further, emphasizing simple lines; celebrating humble, straight-grained white oak; favoring handcrafted hardware; and exposing joinery to plain view. Stickley dubbed his interpretation of the movement “Craftsman.” Later, the misnomer “Mission” was also applied to his furniture and stuck. So you’ll often see these labels used interchangeably in our magazine and elsewhere. 

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