“The Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, New York, is the best preserved and most complete complex of buildings remaining in the United States of the guilds that evolved as centers of craftsmanship and philosophy during the late 19th century. The Campus, designated a National Historic Landmark district (NHL) in 1986, contains nine of the original 14 structures. including the Inn, the Chapel, the Print Shop, the Furniture Shop, and the Copper Shop.”—Roycroft Campus Corp.
The Roycroft was founded in 1897 by Elbert Hubbard. Dissatisfied with mass-produced goods and inspired by William Morris' Kelmscott Press in England, Hubbard’s earliest aim was to print fine books. His vision for a utopian craft community soon evolved. The charismatic Hubbard attracted like-minded artisans, and together they built an extraordinary complex of Gothic and Tudor buildings for their medieval-modeled guild. In its heyday the Campus supported hundreds of craftspeople and workers. Roycroft played a critical role in shaping and promoting the American Arts & Crafts Movement.
After a series of setbacks and due to changing times, the Roycroft closed its doors in 1938. Fortunately, the 1970s saw an independent group of artisans find inspiration in the original Roycroft principles of “head, heart, and hand” craftsmanship. They formed a modern-day guild, the Roycrofters-At-Large Association, Inc. (RALA), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the Arts & Crafts Movement in East Aurora.
To achieve membership in the Guild, an artist submits work to an annual jury of Master Artisans. If it meets those high standards of workmanship that Hubbard set for his Roycrofters, the artisan is allowed to use the coveted Double R, the Roycroft Renaissance Mark.
A second juried guild, the Arts & Craftsmen Guild was formed in May 2015. Upon achieving membership, artists are awarded use of the Triangle Rose. Today's artisans work in a wide range of media, from glass and metal to fiber and wood. They remain the heart of the community. Heirloom-quality work can be found on Campus in the Copper Shop Gallery. They also hold the Roycroft Winter Arts & Crafts Festival on the first weekend in December, and the Roycroft Summer Festival in June.
Visiting Roycroft Campus
Start at the Roycroft Campus. Head first to the Power House, which was built in 1910 to provide electricity and heat, and devastated by fire in 1997. The recent reconstruction features industrial-style space with a generous nod to the past. Get an introduction to the Campus in the M&T Bank Visitor Center, which features large-scale murals of the original coal boilers and an array of printing equipment. A striking Sanborn map is superimposed on the floor, showing the original 1910 layout of the building. Climb the stairs to the light-filled Neil & Barbara Chur Family Gallery with its rotating display of contemporary artwork.
Campus tours begin at the Power House. Learn about the Roycroft way of life, and see the iconographic architecture the original Roycrofters used for promotion in postcards, catalogues, and magazines. Specialty tours (gardens, night-time) are given, and you might also attend a lecture or a concert.
A must-see is the newly opened Museum, located in the historic Print Shop. Filled with original books, furniture, artwork, metal arts, and informative displays, the Museum brings the colorful history of the Roycroft and its founder to life. It also provides resonant context for the entire Campus.
While the Roycrofters produced many fine goods, their mainstay was the printing of magazines and books. Downstairs from the Museum is a re-creation of the original printing operation. See an extraordinary collection of historic printing presses, some of which are still in use today by a few of the 9 artists-in-residence. Currently capable of printing the famous Roycroft mottos, they hope to print small books for sale soon.
A final treat on this floor is additional artist studios focused on stained glass, watercolor and oil painting, mixed media, and design work. An open door means you're welcome to come in, to watch and chat with an artist at work. A roster of artisan classes, workshops, and demonstrations is ongoing.
The Copper Shop Gallery holds work from over 100 local, national, and international artisans. The historic Furniture Shop is home to Norberg’s Art Gallery, the Roycoft Antiques Shop, and Floyd East—Furniture for Life. The Roycroft Inn also has a gift shop.
Where to Stay
Elbert Hubbard's meeting with Frank Lloyd Wright had a lasting impact on the Roycroft Campus. The gorgeous Roycroft Inn shows Wright's Prairie School influence. Its 22 suites and public spaces display an exquisite melding of Arts & Crafts styles.
MORE TO SEE
There’s much to see in East Aurora, a picturesque village just a half-hour drive south of Buffalo. East Aurora is a walkable village with a growing number of restaurants and attractions. A five-minute stroll takes you to the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum, run by the Aurora Historical Society. The beautiful, intact 1910 Craftsman Bungalow was built by Roycrofters and is home to a generous collection of Roycroft artifacts.
Travel a half hour to Buffalo to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's important Darwin Martin House. A different half-hour drive takes you to Graycliff Located on the shores of Lake Erie, it's the summer home Wright built for Martin.