Gustav Stickley was born in Osceola, Wisconsin, in 1858 and began to train with his father in stonemasonry and woodworking at the age of 12. At 18 he became an apprentice in his uncle's Pennsylvania factory, where he produced chairs and... [more]
Gustav Stickley was born in Osceola, Wisconsin, in 1858 and began to train with his father in stonemasonry and woodworking at the age of 12. At 18 he became an apprentice in his uncle's Pennsylvania factory, where he produced chairs and caned seats. He and two of his brothers, all educated in the family trade, established The Stickley Brothers Company in 1884 -- a business that specialized primarily in furniture reproductions.
Although Stickley was now a businessman, his initial schooling as a craftsman drew him to the Arts and Crafts movement. The mass production of goods by machinery was becoming a reality at the end of the nineteenth century; in reaction, this new European design movement promoted the values of the past, insisting that only the human hand could produce quality goods -- that machine-made objects were inferior.
In 1898, Stickley said good-bye to his business and set out on a pilgrimage to Europe. There he would exchange ideas with the design reformers of William Morris' Arts and Crafts
movement. When he returned to New York, he founded his own company, called United Crafts. He wanted to build a place where craftsmen could produce superior goods and ultimately share in the rewards of the business. While the egalitarian plans for communal profit sharing did not pan out, the company did encourage what Stickley thought of as "honest art."
The furniture produced by Stickley's craftspeople was simple in design -- quite contrary to the highly decorative Victorian stuff of the day -- and proclaimed a kind of accessibility to Everyman. This style came to be known as Mission or Craftsman and is identifiable by such key elements as exposed joinery, solidly constructed oak forms, and strong, clean lines.
Stickley popularized his philosophy of design in his magazine, The Craftsman. In a typical passage from 1911, he wrote, "There are elements of intrinsic beauty in the simplification of a house built on the log cabin idea. First, there is the bare beauty of the logs themselves with their long lines and firm curves. Then there is the open charm felt of the structural features which are not hidden under plaster and ornament, but are clearly revealed." Stickley emphasized the way natural materials produce a harmony between building and environment. Flourishes and decorations, on the other hand, were simply baggage to him.
Through his Craftsman Workshops and The Craftsman, Stickley celebrated the integrity of true handiwork, articulated the importance of the individual craftsman, and declared the value of simplicity in design. As the major force behind the Arts and Crafts movement in America, he awakened people to the unique materials available on this continent (in particular, American woods) and the strong traditions of local design. [show less]