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The Arts & Crafts Mentality

A Note from the Editor:

For most people, Bungalow and Craftsman mean an architectural style, like Georgian or Italianate. If you’ve read about the Arts & Crafts movement, though, or are following its revival, you realize that the range is wide. The proto-Modern tea room by Scots designer C.R. Mackintosh, a 1906 plan house in Gustav Stickley’s magazine, the Japanese-inspired mansion for the Gamble family, a semi-bungalow in a streetcar suburb, and a brand-new, energy-sipping “smart house” design–build by a guild of artisans—certainly these houses don’t represent one “style.” Yet all are under the Arts & Crafts umbrella.

The same is true for the furnishings and decorative arts we call Arts & Crafts. The flowing patterns of stylized flora in William Morris patterns have little in common with the geometric pendant ornaments in a wallpaper frieze; pottery and tile differ by country and individual maker; the furniture, often summarized as plain, heavy, and rectilinear, can also be ornamented with neo-Gothic motifs, or delicate.

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What, then, does Arts & Crafts mean? I’ve been asked that by magazine people and even by my kids, so I’ve come up with some sound bites: Arts & Crafts is inclusive because it is more a philosophy for design (and living) than a rigid style. A&C is almost the opposite of a historic style, because it has evolved and is still evolving. A&C is more focused on interpretation than on replication. Arts & Crafts sees beauty where it really lives—that’s why it has so many vernacular and regional expressions. Its buildings may be stone, or brick, or shingled, depending on custom; its motifs may refer to the designs of the Navajo or to local fauna.

As was true a century and more ago, today’s artisans are less concerned with style, and more with their approach to design and manufacture. They consider the peculiarities of place, use discernment, marry design to craft, and often work cooperatively with other artists and tradespeople. Their clients are looking not for what is most on-trend or for the cheapest option, but rather for a connection to the maker. Arts & Crafts is not about consumerist acquisition; it’s about making and having fewer, better things.

Patricia Poore,Editor
10 Harbor Rd., Gloucester, MA 01930

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