Gustav Stickley: American Pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement

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Gustav Stickley (March 9, 1858 – April 21, 1942) was an American furniture manufacturer, design leader, publisher and the chief evangelist for the American Craftsman style. His adherence to the British Craftsman style and movement was largely responsible for the movement prospering in America. Here are five fast facts about his methodology and his legacy.

He Hated the Term “Mission Style”
In the summer of 1900, Stickley worked with Henry Wilkinson to create his first Arts and Crafts works in an experimental line called the “New Furniture.” In 1901, he changed the name of his firm to the United Crafts and issued a new catalogue written by Irene Sargent.

His work was nostalgic in tone, a reminder of the period before the Industrial Revolution. It was referred to by critics and fans as “Mission style,” though Stickley despised the term as ambiguous. In 1903, he changed the name of his company again, to the Craftsman Workshops, starting a concentrated marketing campaign. His furniture designs were joined by textiles, lighting, and metalwork.

He Was a Libertarian Socialist
In 1901, Stickley published “The Craftsman” magazine. The magazine was an important voice for promoting Arts and Crafts philosophy and furniture alike. The magazine featured articles by libertarian socialists, all curated by Stickley.

His Furniture was a Pushback to the Industrial Revolution

Those ideals—simplicity, honesty, truth—were reflected in his trademark, which includes the Flemish phrase “Als Ik Kan,” which translates as “to the best of my ability.”

Stain rather than elaborate carvings and ornamentation were the hallmarks of Stickley’s style. Wood was carefully chosen for each model and stained to emphasize each piece’s grain and character. Mortise and tenon joinery was left exposed, further demarcating where nature began and man turned nature to his purpose. Hammered metal hardware, in armor-bright polished iron or patinated copper emphasized the handmade qualities of the furniture. Dyed leather, canvas, terry cloth and other upholstery materials rounded out the designs.

He Had Pastoral Leanings and Loved Log Homes
Craftsman Farms was built between 1905-1907. Intended to serve as a boarding school for boys, Stickley later moved his family into the home after the idea didn’t take off. The main house is constructed from chestnut logs and stone found on the property. As he wrote in The Craftsman:

“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, a charm felt in Japanese architecture…. The quiet rhythmic monotone of the wall of logs fills one with the rustic peace of a secluded nook in the woods.”

Today, the Stickley Home in Pasadena, California, stands as a testament to all the hallmarks of the Arts and Crafts style that Stickley pioneered in America.