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Harmonious Simplicity: Early 20th Century Arts & Crafts

On View Saturday, November 21, 2009–Sunday, May 30, 2010

Margaret L. Wendt Gallery   

In 1880, William Morris wrote: “Beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life.”  This premise from The Beauty of Life inspired artisans on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the United States, the Roycroft Movement began in June 1895 when Harry P. Taber published The Philistine in an edition of 2,500 copies and started producing the first book of the Roycroft Printing Shop.  He chose the Roycroft name based on promotional material about a new “Roycroft type face” issued by American Type Founders.  The Roycroft trademark was first printed in September 3, 1895 by Taber.

Elbert Hubbard bought the Roycroft Printing Shop from Taber on November 29, 1895, in part because he had traveled to England the year before to visit the Kelmscott Press, which had been established by William Morris in 1891.  Hubbard was inspired not only by the beauty of the work he saw, but also by the workers’ dedication to quality.  William Morris was the first to adapt the philosophies of John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle and others by emulating the medieval guild system and creating handcrafted items.  Followers of the British Arts and Crafts aesthetic saw the increasing industrialization of Europe through the 19th century as a threat to art and society.

These ideas formed the basis of a work ethic for Hubbard, who trademarked the ancient guild name “The Roycrofters,” literally meaning “King’s Craftsmen.”  Hubbard wrote:  “The Roycroft ideal is to make beautiful things and make them as well as they can be made.”  In the Roycroft workshops artisans were trained in the ways to craft domestic objects, including—surprisingly—the use of machines.  Unlike his English counterparts, Hubbard had no fear of technology.  He was interested in using any means to produce simple, honest objects.

For this exhibition, selections from the Roycroft Collection will be featured with furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley and Charles Rohlfs; fabric designed by William Morris; wallpapers designed by Morris & Company and M. H. Birge & Sons Company; Deldare Ware produced by Buffalo Pottery; and simple household objects aestheticized by Heintz Art Metal and Karl Kipp in the early 20th century.

Co-Curators: Nancy Weekly, Head of Collections and the Charles Cary Rumsey Curator and Bill Menshon, Facilities Manager