Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Craftsman Movement & Frank Lloyd Wright

In rebuttle to the ostentacious Victorian style, the Craftsman movement emerged in Amercia, practically making a 180 degree turn from the gaudy heaviness of the Victorian era. Several individuals contributed to the development and spread of this style but Gustav Stickley is often recognized as the leader (Pile 275), and Frank Lloyd Wright is remembered for his work developed in his style.

Stickley made huge strides in the popularity department of the movement by starting a magazine called “The Craftsman,” featuring current Craftsman homes and furniture (Pile 276). Stickley’s own personal furniture style included very simple design; natural materials like wood and leather, hand crafted joinery, and very little if any ornamentation (Pile 276).

Stylistically the Craftsman movement was the stripping away of everything Victorian. Where before there had been rich embellishment and deep carvings, now there were smooth surfaces, clean geometric lines, more natural materials, and detail only from the constructed form. It came to sometimes be called Mission because of its close resemblance to furniture made previously for the California missions (Pile 276). Stemming off of Stickley’s work, Elbert Hubbard established Roycroft, producing mission furniture and posing a direct competitive threat to Stickley’s sales.

Frank Lloyd Wright, though pursuing a continuation of the Craftsman style, had a more narrowed approach. He strongly considered the relationship between the plan of the home and what was seen throughout or experienced within its walls (Mallgrave 135). He strove for an organic quality to the house, all of its elements naturally coming together to form a unified whole, considering the aesthetic to be an expression of the structure as a solution to a problem, rethinking the concept of style (135). To him, the final product should be an expression too, of the process employed to construct it, and not a cover up act. It should be one in unison with its environment, and not devoid of context (135).

In analyzing the Craftsman movement, do you think this trend could be one that might catch on again today or have we leaned too much toward the Industrial Revolution’s steel skyscrapers, prefabrication, and machine-based construction to come back around?

Relating back to some of the questions discussed during the sections on the Industrial Revolution and the development of fossil fuels, what effect do you think a continuation of the Craftsman’s push toward natural materials like wood, and hand- rather than machine-crafted elements, would have done for our current situations (such as pollution, dwindling amounts of natural resources and our undeniable dependence on them, global warming, etc.)?


Betty said...

I believe that we ARE seeing a rebirth of Craftsman ideals. This time around, though, it has more of an environmentalist theme to it. A broader scope than household goods is involved this time around, but that is, after all, what Ruskin and Morris were after -- broad, values-based reform. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", LEED Certification, Global Warming Awareness, Emission Control and scrubbers on smoke stacks, a renaissance of the small local merchant, shortest distance shipping initiatives, marketing campaigns to buy local (particularly for food), toxin free makeup, paint and toys, etc.... These just name a fraction of the initiatives that are out there right now, and they ironically gain much momentum from that technological innovation of the Internet.

The Craftsman Movement, in its original form, was admirably romantic and idealistic. I really don't believe, however, that it was a sustainable system in a capitalist economy. There is too much incentive to increase productivity and profit. It could not have ever taken over the front lines of manufacturing responsibility without decimating the middle class that emerged and thrived as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Goods would have been prohibitively expensive, and people would have become desperate to make ends meet and get work, producing downward pressure on wages concurrent with the upward pressure on prices... a disasterous combination.

Let's recollect that Morris was a socialist... well, a communist, really. The Craftsman system, in my opinion, is more feasible in a socialist economy than in a capitalist one.

Would it were so, however, that a legacy of the Craftsman Movement had been a lasting respect of the materials and processes going into the creation of goods. Perhaps conservation and judiciousness would have prevailed and some degree of the problems we face would be lessened. Had this been the case, perhaps we as a society would have pursued a different set of innovations including conservation, environmental protection, and alternative fuel efforts.

I still stick to what I said that couple of weeks ago, though, that the momentum of a society is not nimble. Is is an illogical combination of slow to move, impossible to stop, and monumentally hard to correct. But that's progress, right?

kengelman said...

I agree with what Betty has said that we are seeing a rebirth of Craftsman ideals. I think like she said we are turning to more simple organic ideals of our furniture and every aspect of our lives. Everyone is trying to get away from machinery and shipping things. We are trying to use our natural resources in our communities to help the Earth and our environment. We are trying to figure out new ways to move away from our dependence on the machine. Such as the new inventions for the car. Such as using solar, wind or battery power to move away from gasoline.

Also during our poor economy recently we are turning away from all the decoration and ornamentation of the fancy items that we might have had. We want simpler things in our lives that are affordable and serve their purpose. We aren't as concerned as we just to be about our items. During our economy we have to think about the basics and not the extras. Craftsman style furniture would be simplistic for these times.

Also I think that if we would have stayed with the craftsman theory and tried to move away from the machine our environment would be better now. We would have not contaminated our environment as quickly as we did if it weren't for the invention of the machine and the insane obsession that that led to. If we would have respected the machine we could have slowed our use of it leading to less pollution.

Jenna Martini said...

Although I do agree with Betty and Kaitlyn in stating that we truly may be in the rebirth or Craftsmanship and the saving of our environment through more simplistic goods, I also believe we will always stick to our guns when it comes to machine made furniture and the design of furniture.

Yes, we may be in the midst of an economic crisis and sure, many designers focus on LEED and Go-Green design. But, this does not change the mere fact that no matter the economic crisis, we will always have an upper and a middle class. Most of the time in which both classes have the ability to still rely on manufactured based products.

Sure, today has brought back the ideas of Ruskin and Morris as well as the rebirth of Craftsman ideals. Maybe we are progressing, but will America really ever give up on manufactured goods for the sake of pollution or saving the environment, even in the idea of saving money? Probably not, what do you think?

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Melissa Long said...

While the Craftsman style has faded in importance of the years, I believe parts of it still exist in today’s society. The Craftsman style helped strip down designs into their most basic and natural forms, an idea which we will see repeated in future styles. Also, we still reference nature as a source of knowledge on how forms should be created. In the case of design, it seems Mother Nature will always know best.

As Betty pointed out, I believe we are living in a form of the Craftsman movement. While we do depend on steel and modern materials to provide fast and cheap construction, the importance of mans effect on nature is growing every day. With the development of LEED and organic products, consumers that are environment conscious are willing to pay a little bit more for a healthier product. This is much like Morris’ philosophy during the Arts and Crafts movement – that consumers should pay a little bit more for higher quality of design. However, we still depend on our technology to quickly produce our products for a society that always has deadlines to meet. Capitalism and green design do not mix well together. Most often consumers will want to pay the cheapest price for a product, and this usually means through factory production. Also, when green products can be produced cheaply, merchants will always be looking to make a profit, therefore driving the price of the product up.

Even though handcrafted designs would have been better for the environment than factory pollution, I still believe there are harmful elements to Craftsman construction. Many of the Craftsman products are created from wood, which would mean cutting down more trees and more pollution through our means of doing so. To make matters worse, many of the Craftsman products that were developed in factories, which use both wood and pollution. It seems as though industrialization was inevitable, and all we can do to help fix the problem is call on the basic ideas of the Craftsman movement.

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.