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Arts & Crafts: Art Nouveau to Craftsman

Wassail, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The Design Philosophy of Morris in Later Arts & Crafts,
Glasgow Style, and American Arts & Crafts


From Medieval to Art Nouveau: Preraphaelite Ceramics

De Morgan Fantastic Bird

Part I: What is Arts and Crafts?

William De Morgan, ageneration younger than Morris and his circle, worked at Morris & Co. from 1863 to 1972. His first projects were stained glass and furniture, but eventually he became in charge of the tileworks. Early tiles were designed by Morris and executed by De Morgan. Later, they collaboratd on larger projects, such as the Membland Tile panels.

De Morgan left Morris & Co. to start his own tile works, but he did not go far. He first moved to Chelsea, but when Morris moved operations to Merton Abbey, De Morgan moved a 100 yards down the road. Eventually, the trip became onerous -- De Morgan was newly married, and he settled into his final tile works in Fulham.

De Morgan's tiles, Pre-raphaelite ceramics both by date and association, show his and larger culturaltransition from Morris's natural designs to the more stylized Art Nouveau designs.

De Morgan reproduction tiles
From left: De Morgan Parrot, scroll border for the P&O 'Arabia', Persian fish, Fanastic Ducks

More about William De Morgan Arts and Crafts

Art Nouveau

Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo chair, 1882
Pre Art Nouveau chair designed
by Arthur Heygate Macmurdo in 1882.
Mackmurdo traveled with Ruskin in
Italy and worked with William Morris

Art Nouveau, a movement that became an overnight sensation after an exhibition in Paris in 1895, emphasizes floral and plant motifs, and stylized curves. The chair designed by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo in 1882 (see right), appeared 13 years before Samuel Bing's Maison de l'Art Nouveau gallery opened in Paris in 1895. More interesting, he designed it for the Century Guild in 1882, "an association of artists and entrepreneurs that attempted to realize the ideals of Morris by bringing the highest levels of artistic creativity to objects for the ordinary home."

Mackmurdo had both traveled in Italy with John Ruskin and worked with William Morris. We'll see this influence leave England for the continent, then make a reverse-turn for Scotland and finally return to Arts & Crafts in America in the paragraphs that follow.

Scottish Arts and Crafts: The Glasgow School

Almost 30 years after the establishment of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co. in London, Charles Rennie Macintosh, Herbert Macnair, Margaret and Frances Macdonald started the movement that became known as "Glasgow Style". Mackintosh was not only a designer in the Arts and Crafts movement but also the main exponent of Art Nouveau in Scotland.

In addition, the movement was strongly influenced by Francis Newberry, headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art, whose strong interest in Arts and Crafts and admiration of William Morris inspired him to add nontraditional crafts such as ceramics, needlework, and stained glass to the curriculum.

Myth and Medieval in Scottish Arts and Crafts

Charles Rennie Macintosh linen press (Glasgow style)
Glasgow Style designer Charles Rennie Macintosh's linen press, 1895

The Morris affinity for things mythic and medieval is strong in Scottish Arts and Crafts. Many Glasgow artists incorporated Celtic imagery and motifs, and often shows the influence of Aubrey Beardsley. It often has a Gothic, ethereal sense about it. "Hobgoblins by misty moonlight"

Women played major roles in Glasgow Style; Besides the sisters Frances MacDonald and Margaret MacNair, Jessie, M. King's book illustrations and fashion designs, Ann MacBeth's fine embroidery work, and the creations of metal artists Margaret and Mary Gilmour became identified with the style.

Jessie M. King, Mermaids

Early Arts and Crafts in America

Roycroft style grandfather clock
Roycroft style grandfather clock,
using quarter sawn oak. It is not quite so
stark as Craftsman style, and uses Arabic numerals.

The Arts and Crafts philosophy resonated with Americans and the movement continued in parallel in the United States.

Around the time of Morris's death in 1896, a group of Boston architects, designers, and academics gathered to bring Morris's design reforms to America. It is thanks to them that the first American Arts and Crafts Exhibit opened in 1897, featuring handcrafted objects by American craftsmen. As with Glasgow Arts and Crafts, half or more of the contributors were women. This exhibition led to the formation of The Society of Arts and Crafts later that year.


This aesthetic focus on quality and perfection was a central principle for the Roycroft community of artisans in East Aurora New York. Roycroft, founded by Elbert Hubbard in 1895, was Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, London printers of the late seventeenth century. Also, the word roycroft literally means "King's Craft". In later European history, king's craftsmen were guild members who had achieved a high degree of skill and therefore made things for the King.

As with Ruskin and Morris, the individual artisan was valued over the thing produced and a community of artisans formed with Ruskin's words from Nature of the Gothic emblematic of the Roycroft creed:

    A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness.

Elbert Hubbard died with the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, on a mission to encourage an end of the war. The Roycroft community dissolved over the next decade.

Arts & Crafts is Not Craftsman

Proceed with caution when you hear the term "American Arts & Crafts". The American Arts and Crafts movement of Greene and Greene and pottery designer A.R. Valentien is not synonymous with American Craftsman. The American Craftsman style is sometimes called American Arts and Crafts, confusing things even more. Originally, architectural plans for Craftsman homes were published in Gustav Stickley's magazine, The Craftsman, or sold through Stickley catalogs. His plans were published between 1901 and 1916. Most Craftsman homes were built during the first 30 years of the of the 20th century, usually on deep, narrow lots, with the living area facing the street, and kitchen, bedrooms, and baths at the rear of the house.

The simple, squared Arts and Crafts forms took hold in America as did the simple lines of trestle tables and the Morris Chair. Gustave Stickley's factories churned out basic components that were then assembled and finished and sold in mass markets. This style with its series of square and rectangles became characteristic of architecture and interiors in last 19th and early 20th century America. Decorative tiles and furnishings were all that made such homes personal and essentially, still "Arts & Crafts" at heart.

Later mass production of American Craftsman furnishings was antipathetic to Arts & Crafts values. But American Craftsman style brings with it components, and more importantly values, that remind one of Morris's Red House: a light airyness, often with an open floor plan, natural materials, exposed rafters and beans, decorative vents, trellis porches, the use of stained glass, an overall earthy feel. But this has degenerated, as things often do, to a style, rather than the embodiment of values. Proceed with caution when decorating a Craftsman home. It is possible to purchase from "American Craftsman" style vinyl windows, made in China.

Craftsman bungalow interior
Craftsman Bungalow Interior

Craftsman vs. Mission Style

The terms "Arts and Crafts", "Craftsman" and "Mission Style" have come to be used interchangeably, but there are some obvious differences. "Mission Style" reflects the influence of the traditional Southwest culture on the popular Arts and Crafts movement, with its history drawn from the rustic hewn furniture of the Spanish missions in California and the southwestern United States. The styles share simple design elements, but Mission Style may incorporate these Hispanic elements that Arts and Crafts does not. Mission Style may incorporate Native American elements such as rugs and baskets but not Art Nouveau elements.

Art Nouveau influences reappear in traditional American Arts and Crafts style. Louis Comfort Tiffany was strongly influenced by the philosophical writings of John Ruskin and William Morris. The sinuous curves and assymetrical elements, as well as images from nature such as dragonflies or tulips show their English arts and crafts heritage, while abandoning its medieval and mythic elements. American Arts and Crafts made its peace with the manufacturing processes, and not unsuccessfully. Quality homes furnishings were affordable, but no longer personal.

Part 1: What is Arts & Crafts?


William Morris tile: Beauty and the Beast