Appendix 25: Notes for a Piece on the Impact of the Term Modern, and its Cognates:
Antimodern,Modernization, Modernism, Premodern, and Modernity -- Upon Woodworking

Overview of Modern and  Its Cognates:

Modern, a borrowed term, has a meaning can be deceptive or misleading. In earlier connotations, modern referred to contemporary, that is, something that came into existence recently. (More correctly contemporary is used to mean of the same period , including specific past periods,  in the past, rather than right now.)   Historians follow a convention of  contrasting  ancient, medieval (middle), and modern historical periods.   Premodern is what lexicographers call a retronym, needing its meaning on the later understanding Modern.

Retronym is a term for labels of concepts and other words coined after an event has occurred. Nonetheless, even that term, i.e., retronym, is under discussion:  as a term, is it the most appropriate term to precisely describe historical events. Examples of retronyms are Renaissance , Scientific Revolution , Holocaust , and so on. All these terms were coined by scholars to describe events that took place long after the events themselves took place.

Evidently the term is the coinage of Frank Mankiewicz, whom old-timers will remember as an aide to Robert Kennedy and campaign manager for George McGovern.

This definition of retronym seems to be the most accepted: 

"retronym (jargon) A term invented to distinguish a subclass of things from new members of the superclass, where the distinction was previously not necessary, since the old subclass had been all there was of the superclass. For example, the retronyms `snail mail' and `paper mail' were coined by those for whom `mail' was likely to mean electronic mail. While the English language in general has a few retronyms (whole milk, snow skiing, acoustic guitar), hacker jargon is necessarily (at points capriciously so) rich in retronyms, e.g. plaintext, natural language, impact printer and eyeball search."

Not unexpectedly, William Safire has weighed in on this issue as well: "That's a retronym, a phrase with a modifier fixing a meaning to a noun that needed no modifier before: the shift to night baseball created day baseball, just as the invention of the electric guitar required us to call the old-fashioned instrument an acoustic guitar."

Examples of Retronymic Terms:  

The  Holocaust -- so labeled in 1954 -- refers to the genocide of European Jews by the Nazi Germans in World War II, 1939-1945. 

Epistemology was given its label by the philosopher, James Frederick Ferrier in the 19th century, but the concept traces back to the ancient world. 

Even Concept itself does not appear as a label until the 18th century, even though the notion of concepts, like epistemology, traces back to the ancient world. Naturally, there are many other examples that can be cited. 

Note however, that currently the term employed to designate such usage, i.e., a term is coined for human behavior after the fact, is called a retronymic term. 

In an earlier part of my life, I conducted research on Xenophobia and Nativism :

Xenophobia , as a concept, evidently was coined in ca. 1906, and used in the popular vocablulary  ever since. For example, in 1922, scholars such as George M. Stephenson, a professor of History at the University of Minnesota, were using xenophobia   as a concept to describe human behavior of the past, specifically behavior associated with the framing of the US Constitution. Likewise, in 1989, the constitutional historian Michael Cronin projects xenophobic behavior on the framers of the Constitution when he claims that they are motivated by xenophobic sentiments when they are considering the qualifications of US Presidents. 

Nativism, in contrast to Xenophobia, has a much different history. Nativism sprung up in public discourse as a term describing nativisitic sentiment among the US population about the immigration of foreigners to the US.  

Modernization created mass production, which meant a slow death of the long-revered master craftsmen-apprenticeship programs, responsible for the construction of handmade furniture, collectively a national treasure.

Modernization includes electrification, for example, which stimulated the creation of fractional horsepower motors and scaled down stationary power tools for homeworkshops. but it also changed room lighting, in a significant way, leading to revisions in interior decoration styles, which inevitably led to new styles of furniture, producing the conditions the led to changes in architecture and furniture design, generally identified as Modernism .

Modernism, modernistic   are cover terms for movements or styles that depart from traditional or classical modes in furniture, art, architecture, etc. Also these terms can mean something that belongs to the present time or is especially characteristic of it. Modernism connotes up-to-dateness and novelty, to contrast with things long-accepted, still the choice of conservatives. (Dictionaries that I consulted note that -- in this special sense -- modernistic may be preferred to modernism, but more often modernistic carries a contemptuous suggestion of the ephemerally novel, say like "pet rocks".)


Modernity is the quality or condition of being modern, or in effect, an attitude of modernness of character or style . 

A key feature of modernity is the shift of emphasis from the privileges and power of institutions (a monarch, a clerical establishment, the state itself) to the rights and relative autonomy of the individual.

In many ways, the modern virtues are the ones we associate with democracy: a free flow of ideas, money and people in a setting where citizens are free to form their own opinions and follow their own conscience.

Modernity has three levels of meaning: the current , the new , and the transient . In the concept of modernity, specifically, all three of these levels of meaning refer to the importance ascribed to the present. 

Modernity, then, imprints the Present with the qualities that make it different from the Past. We can also describe Modernity as a break with tradition, that is, an attitude that inclines toward rejecting the inheritance of the past. 

Modernity, Octavio Paz (1914-1998) --  Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat, and the 1990 Nobel Prize winner, says, is, culturally,  exclusively a Western concept, one that has no equivalent in other civilizations.

The reason modernity is exclusive to the West derives from our unique view of Time. For the West, time is "linear, irreversible, and progressive". 

In other non-Western cultures and other civilizations base time on a static concept: the timeless time of primitive civilizations, for whom the past was the archetype of time, the model for the present and the future -- or a cyclical one -- such as that of classical antiquity by which the distant past represented an ideal that would return at some time in the future. 

For medieval humanity earthly time was no more than a preparation for the time of eternity, so that the concrete course of history was only of secondary importance. 

It was during the Renaissance that the idea began to gain currency, that history contained a course of development that could be influenced in a certain direction. The humanists wanted to revive the ideal of classical antiquity and to approximate it ever more closely. 

This endeavor, however, was not devoid of paradoxes. In the famous seventeenth-century Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, the question was raised whether the "Moderns" could not rival or even surpass the "Ancients" in their attempts to achieve the highest ideal of art.

The main result of this discussion was that the cyclical model of time was replaced by a progressive model that viewed every age as unique and unrepeatable and as an advance on the achievements of preceding periods.

Sources: Octavio Paz, The Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde  Cambridge,MA:  Harvard University Press, 1974, page 23;  Hilde Heynen, Architecture and Modernity: A Critique Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1998, Chapter 1.


Antimodern is the revolt against modernization. Led by such people as the architect, William L Price, and the publisher and furniture manufacturer, Gustav Stickley, antimodern.

In Defining These Terms Historically

As catchwords of particular kinds of change, all these terms are variations on the term modern. They need scrutiny. "Modern" was introduced into the English language around 1500 AD. Originally, modern meant "existing now", but the meaning later shifted to include "of the present and recent times". Used to date anything not medieval nor ancient, modern is anything the bears the marks of a period nearer in time than another or -- less clearly --  anything new, fresh, or up-to-date.

Modern is sometimes confusing when we use it to date things or events which have taken place, come into existence, or developed in times close to the present. The word comes directly from Late Latin, "modernus", by way of Middle French "moderne". The term "modern" -- we noted above that its connotation dates back to the Renaissance -- itself assumes an opposition, that is, something older or "used", out of which the modern grew.

Examples from Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Synonyms:

modern surgical techniques",
"the modern novel",
"ancient galleys, medieval ships and modern dreadnaughts"

or "the date of the discovery of America, 1492,is often used arbitrarily as the beginning of modern history".

Many times, the dividing line that divides what is modern and what is too far distant in time to be called modern is supplied by the context. Example: "the Victorian era gave way to the modern age of machinery ".

More examples:

Tempo is to be issued by Oliver Jenkins, a gentle bard  of Danvers,  Massachusetts.  It is to be a magazine devoted to modern poetry. Just what Mr. Jenkins's definition of "modern " may be, remains to be seen.

Source: The  Bookman: A Review of Books and Life 53 1921 page 282.

The ornate mansions of a bygone era mingle with more modern concepts of architecture. 

Source: C E Wright, "Seaside Sight-Seeing in East Florida", New York Times 1-17-1954, page XX9.

The authors [Ruskin, Morris, Hubbard, Stickley] of nineteenth-century concepts of "reform," "beauty," and "goodness" were so convincing that their ideas are now often conflated with "progressive," "modern ," or "high quality."

Source: Robert Edwards, "Byrdcliffe Furniture: Imagination Versus Reality," in Nancy Green et al., Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004, page 75.

Modern Applied in Woodworking

In woodworking, modern can have both positive and negative connotations. For some -- those who appreciate the modernization of woodworking machinery --  modern means injecting technological advances into machines, to make them operate more efficiently, more rapidly, more accurately, more powerfully.

For example, the most famous book on woodworking machines is John Richards A Treatise on the Construction and Operation of Wood-working Machines London: Spon, 1872, has "modern" -- highlighted on the lower left of the image -- on the title-page:

john richards treatise title page modern

And, in the passage below, Richards employs "modern" in reference to his notes on the "invention" of the "liquid bearing", implying that it is an example of a technological advance.

Modern as Technological Advance:

Bramah ...  invented the liquid bearing ... [and] performed the vertical adjustment of his cutter spindles by the same means, pumping in the liquid at will, and securing a very precise, as well as positive, setting of his machine. This mode of adjustment does not seem to have occurred to the modern inventor , and the " hydrostatic adjustment," which has so many parallels in modern practice, may, for all the author knows, owe its origin to this device of Bramah's, but whether it does or not, the originality of the thing with him cannot be questioned.

Another still more important feature of this invention was what we term conical gearing for varying motion, now extensively employed in modern engineering practice for regulating the feeding mechanism of lathes and other metal-cutting machines, as well as in wood machines. ...

Source: John Richards A Treatise on the Construction and Operation of Wood-working Machines London: Spon, 1872

Example of Modernization: Impacts of the Power Planer and the Band Saw

The task of dimensioning and finishing huge pieces of rough-cut timber was revolutionized by the combination of the power-driven planer and the  band saw. Either a stationary or a portable tool, the thickness or surface planer is designed to (1) make the broad surfaces of a workpiece flat and smooth and (2) an even thickness throughout it s length. 

Historically, according to Herman Hjorth (in Machine Woodworking Peoria, IL: Bruce Publishing, 1937), around 1790, the Englishman, Sir Samuel Bentham is said to have made the most remarkable and ingenious series of inventions, which changed woodworking from a handcraft to an industry. The most important of these was the principle of rotary cutting, which is used in all modern planers, jointers, shapers, molders, and matchers. He also invented veneer-cutting machinery, segment circular saws, tenon cutters, boring machines, and sharpening machines.  (For more on the emergence of rotary cutting see Appendix 6: Evolution of Woodworking's Cutting Edges" .)

These inventions were patented in the years 1791 to 1793, and manufacture started immediately in the London residence of Sir Samuel's more famous brother, Jeremy Bentham.

Bentham even suggested tilting the table or saw and fences for ripping and crosscutting. Bentham, claims Hjorth, may rightfully be called "the father of woodworking machinery.

Writing in the 1890s, Manfred Powis Bale rightly singles out the advances in rotary cutting created by Bentham. "Foremost among inventors woodworking machinery is Samuel Bentham". Bentham's  patents in 1791 and 1793 "are remarkable examples of inventive genius". Bentham's impact, claims  Bale,  is very "clearly exhibited in many woodworking machines in use a century later", in the 1890s. It astonishes us, Bale says, to consider how a patent could be drawn in those days -- i.e., the 1790s --, especially since the steel needed for creating a rigid machine was not yet available, something not developed for another half century.

(The frames of the machines were made of heavy timbers bolted together and only the cutters and bearings were made of metal. Not until about sixty years later were woodworking machines made entirely of  metal.

Rotary Head for Power Planers

The rotary head of planers dates from the William Woodworth pattern of 1828. According to Ernie Conover ( American Woodworker, Dec 1985, page 7 - not online). This basic patent was for planing wood by forcing a plank under a high speed revolving cutterhead with feeding rollers. More details on Woodworth and early planers are given on and in  Herman Hjorth s first chapter of   Machine Woodworking 1937.

Below, in the box, is Manfred Powis Bale's assessment of the advances in planers introduced by Woodworth.

Planing machines with rotary cutters, to cut on several angles of the wood at once; veneer cutting machine, horizontal stone saws, moulding and recessing machine, bevel sawing machine, saw-sharpening machine, tenon-cutting by means of circular saws, and many kinds of rotary and boring tools. ... it is my opinion that several of these patents differ very little indeed except in matter of detail from Bentham's ideas in 1793.

It will be gathered from this short description that the modern American Woodworth planer , in the completeness and easy adaptability of its many details, is a wood-working machine of the most advanced type.

Source: Manfred Powis Bale, Woodworking Machinery, Its Rise, Progress, and Construction London: Crosby, Lockwood and Son, 1894 page 91

Source for more information: Michael J. Ettema, "Technological Innovation and Design Economics in Furniture Manufacture", Winterthur Portfolio   16, No. 2/3 (Summer, 1981), pages 197-223

Modern as employed by Charles Wheeler in 1899:

Look at some of your great-grandmother's furniture (if you are fortunate enough to be able to do so) and think how long it has lasted, and compare it with the cheap modern furniture after the latter has been in use for a few years. How much of the latter would be in existence now if it had been made when the ancestral articles were The durability of the old things is partly due to the quality of the wood and its seasoning. The use of whole pieces (instead of scraps of all kinds of stuff glued up with cheap glue), the way the articles were put together, and the generally honest work put into them had much to do with it.

Bear in mind in undertaking a piece of cabinet-work that you must hold yourself to a higher standard in the matter of accuracy of detail, in order to produce a really satisfactory result, than is necessary for much of the other work often done by amateurs. Many slight inaccuracies, which are of little consequence in the rougher kinds of work, become such gaping and conspicuous defects in cabinet-work as to detract much from the satisfaction that should be taken in home-made articles. Remember, then, that while it is easy to make your furniture strong, it is by no means easy to produce close, accurate joints, smooth, true surfaces, square, clean-cut edges, and a good, smooth finish. Choose, therefore, simple forms, easily put together, for your early attempts; for it is much better to make a modest and unpretentious article well than to make an elaborate one badly.

Source: Charles G Wheeler, Woodworking for Beginners: A Manual for Amateurs New York, G P Putnam's Sons, 1899, page 177

Other Examples of the Use of Modern

Between 1860 and 1880, the activities -- writings and lectures -- of English designers such as Bruce J Talbert (1838-1881 ) and Sir Charles Locke Eastlake (1793-1865) created in America an interest in the modern Gothic styles .

Talbert's furniture designs -- typified as "modified Gothic, adapted to modern requirements" -- created interest, especially dining room and library furniture:

Gothic Forms Applied to Furniture, Metal Work, and Decoration for Domestic Purposes ( 1868) and Examples of Ancient and Modern Furniture, Tapestries, Metal Work, Decoration ( 1876).

Eastlake's Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details (1868) introduced a style of furniture comprising medieval designs, with ornamentation adapted from Gothic and Japanese themes, and its construction dependent upon technology newly available through the power machines of the woodworking industry; -- for examples of woodworking machinery in operation dduring this period, see John Richards'A Treatise on the Construction and Operation of Wood-working Machines London: Spon, 1872.

For wood, cherry was the principal choice, and the pieces are embellished with metal and tile panels and conspicuous hardware.

(See an example of an Eastlake table, in a Gothic design, and copied by William Price, in the Rose Valley community shops.)

A marked feature of this style was the rec­tangular form of the structure, as it fol­lowed the tradition of the medieval joiner which required a framework of verticals and horizontals (posts and rails) joined with mortise and tenon. Glue was never used. Interest in this style was roused by the publication in 1868 of Eastlake's book, Hints on Household Taste, which enjoyed wide popu­larity both in England and in America. Eastlake, who designed some furniture, none of which has apparently survived, bitterly attacks in his book the predom­inance of the curve in mid-Victorian furniture:

"Our modern sofas and chairs aspire to elegance, not with gaily em­bossed silk or delicate inlay of wood, but simply because there is not a straight line in their composition. . . . The ten­dency of the present age of upholstery is to run into curves. Chairs are invariably curved in such a manner as to insure the greatest amount of ugliness with the least possible comfort. The backs of side­boards are curved in the most senseless and extravagant manner; the legs of cab­inets are curved, and become in conse­quence constructively weak; drawing room tables are curved in every direc­tion perpendicularly and horizontally and are therefore inconvenient to sit at, and always rickety. This detestable orna­mentation is called shaping."

Source: Charles Locke Eastlake, Hints on Household Taste, 1868.

The furniture illustrated and designed by Eastlake was a vaguely traditional rural style based on Early English forms, somewhat Elizabethan and somewhat early Jacobean, uncomfortable but marked by sound joinery. It was simple, rectangular and practically without or­nament, with a rough Gothic quality which no doubt prompted J. Moyr Smith to write later in 1887: "perhaps in dec­oration it was too simple . . . and in construction too much like a packing case." Regardless, it became fashionable and such was the influence of his book, for he was regarded as the chief theorist of the Art movement, that furniture produced in this manner is frequently called Eastlake. In America the furniture trade produced a debased Gothic which was far different from Eastlake's illustra­tions (520, 521) .

 It was too eagerly seized upon by the newly-arisen machine-equipped shops, and such taste­fulness as the style originally possessed was lost in the subsequent dis­tortions  ]  The reception of Eastlake's design priciples inspired American furniture manufacturers to produce "modern" Gothic-inspired furniture designs.  (Between 1872 and 1883, American publishers issued seven editions.) Factory knockoffs, that is, adaptations of the Eastlake "style" but without the spirit of his designs, shows that Eastlake's impact [principles of structural integrity and "honest" construction] continued for decades: for example, the way Gustav Stickley's employs such fitments as butterfly joints on the back of a settle of about 1902 (no. 204) goes back a design in Hints on Household Taste (fig. 1). Likewise, Eastlake's gothic library table -- see box below -- was re-created by an craftsman working at the Rose Valley, PA, shop of William Price.


Pages 82- 83, which contains these and many other curious examples  of mediaeval furniture was completed in the year 1409, and  probably the tables date from the same period, when it  was customary to sit at only one side of the dining-table,
while servants waited at the other. For this reason the tables are narrow, and do not afford accommodation for sitters at each end. With a little alteration they might, however, be easily adapted for modern use, and in any case they may serve as good examples of a design which  is not only picturesque in effect, but practical and workmanlike  as far as construction is concerned.

eastlake gothic table

Without both these qualities all furniture is, in an artistic  sense, worthless. And they are precisely the qualities  which have gradually come to be disregarded in modern manufacture. Examine the framing of a fashionable sofa,  and you will find it has been put together in such a manner  as to conceal as far as possible the principle of its  strength. Ask any artist of taste whether there is a single 

object in a London upholsterer's shop that be would care to paint as a study of " still life," and he would tell you, not one. We must not infer from this that such objects are unpaintable simply because they are new. A few years' wear will soon fade silk or damask down to what might be a pleasant gradation of tint if the material is originally of a good and noble color. A few years' use would soon invest our chairs and tables with that sort of interest which age alone can give, if their designs were originally artistic.   

But, unfortunately, our modern furniture does not become  picturesque with time, it only grows shabby. The ladies  like it best when it comes like a new toy from the shop,  fresh with recent varnish and untarnished gilding. And  
they are right, for in this transient prettiness rests the single  merit which it possesses. 

Some years ago, when our chairs and tables were " hand-polished," the English housewife took a certain pride in  their sheen, which was produced by a vast amount of manual labor on the part of footmen or housemaids. The present  
system of French-polishing, or literally varnishing, furniture  is destructive of all artistic effect in its appearance . 

Source: Charles Locke Eastlake Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details


Constructed at the Rose Valley community in the early 1900s, and designed by the driving force of the operation, Philadelphia architect, William Lightfoot Price ( - 1916) ...

neo-gothic style william price ca 1900Said to be the first truly "Victorian" style in England -- arriving around 1830.  The Neo-gothic Revival Period, as the label suggests, adapted Gothic architectural form and ornament to early 19th Century furniture forms. Neo-Gothic design -- styles popular in the medieval era --  features dark woods, pointed arches, trefoils (a shape similar to three-leaf clover) and other Gothic cathedral carvings, intentionally an echo of dedicated medieval craftsman, and said to imply moral character. (The architects,  Augustus Pugin and his father, used Gothic motifs in designing London's Houses of Parliament.

neo-gothic trefoil designs

English designers looked to the Middle Ages for inspiration, and these influences found their way to America . Gothic style was marked by the use of trefoils, quatrefoils, crockets and pinnacles, cluster columns, and pointed arches. The wood used are rosewood,  walnut and oak.

The material culture historian, Robert Edwards, an archivist for the Willcox collection at the Whitehead Estate in Delaware, helps us capture the anti-modernist spirit held by proponents, such as William L Price -- founder of the Rose Valley community -- who advocated a return to handcraftsmanship, away from the ugliness and poor quality of mass produced furniture of the era:

[Price] thinks the table embodies many Arts and Crafts ideas: the Gothic style is supposed to remind one of days when handcraftsmanship was the only option. The dark stain also alludes to ancient oak not as the tree grew, but as antique furniture would look hundreds of years after it was made. You would also have to read to know the table was made in an Arts and Crafts community founded by Price and it is held together with joinery that Price deemed honest because it wasn't dependent on modern factory technology .

Source: Robert Edwards, "Byrdcliffe Furniture: Imagination Versus Reality," in Nancy Green et al., Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004, page 75.

As I'll note below, essentially this is an antimodernist -- read, "antimachine" -- sentiment, and was a driving force in encouraging many men to engage in making their own furniture.

Below, for example, is a fragment of statement by Horace Traubel, prominent figure in the organization of the Rose Valley -- in the first issue of  The Artsman: the Art That is Life -- about the principles that underly Rose Valley's purpose. Fired up by the ideals promoted by the Arts and Craft movement, it displays a strong antimachine mentality, an attitude that prevailed among a strata of society during the peak of the  movement. (Using MSWord to prepare the passage below, I noticed that the word MACHINE is mentioned 38 times!)

Rose Valley is a cross between economic revolution and the stock exchange. Rose Valley is not shutting one door and opening another. Rose Valley connects in the open with industrial fact. It is not a break. It is an evolution. Rose Valley says: Let us go on from where we are. Rose Valley is not altogether a dream or wholly an achievement. It is an experiment. It is also an act of faith. It is not willing to say what it will do. It is only willing to say what it is trying to do. Rose Valley pays a first tribute to labor. Labor is the social base. Our modern world has quarreled with this disposition of values. And many who do not share its quarrel still shrink from making a concession to labor. Rose Valley knows and acknowledges the situation.

Rose Valley is not conceived as a tribute to talk. It is a tribute to work. Rose Valley will endeavor to prove that even under industrial conditions as they are certain things may be done to reestablish labor in the splendid inheritance from which it has so long been debarred. Our civilization has produced the MACHINE. It has not given the MACHINE to man. It has given man to the MACHINE. Rose Valley sees that this adjustment has demonstrated its own inefficacy. What can I do to make the best use both of man and of the MACHINE To enslave the man to the MACHINE is to make the worst use of both.

Source: Horace Traubel "Rose Valley in General" The Artsman: the Art That is Life v 1 1093, pages 23 -30 [kraus reprint edition]


The use of modernism -- as a  term that designates a movement or style away from classical or traditional modes in art, architecture, literature, etc -- is , according to Raymond Williams (in Keywords )  first recorded in 1929. A search for an appropriate example for the year 1929 failed to expose an example useful for my context, however; instead, I will use a 1938 quote from the astute critic of furniture style history, Joseph Aronson:

In the ten years following the first imports of European modernism , America has sampled most of the movements and manners current abroad.

Source:   Entry on "Modern Furniture",  Joseph Aronson, The Encyclopedia of Furniture  Crown Publishers, 1938, pages 128-135.

The high culture we have called Modernism has now been with us for most of this century and part of the previous one, longer than any other culturalism since the French began naming them back in the eighteenth century.

Source: William R. Everdell, The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought Chicago: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1997, page 1

This beauty and its relevance to the present were rediscovered only in the late 1960s, after the style languished for almost five decades, a victim of a machine-driven modernism that ignored the contributions of handcrafted decor.

In fact, during the 1940s and 1950s, the Arts and Crafts style endured a devaluation so extreme that major museums in such important Arts and Crafts cities as Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and St. Louis sold or gave away noteworthy objects, particularly ceramics. Kenneth Trapp, organizer of the Oakland Museum's 1993 California Arts and Crafts exhibition, said that these objects were considered oddities of little historical value or aesthetic merit.

By the 1960s, however, the influence of modernism diminished. The pendulum of style paused for a moment, then began to swing in the opposite direction, impelled perhaps by warnings that important buildings and objects were being destroyed. The first steps of recovery began in the mid-1960s, for example, when the Oakland Museum acquired a collection of paintings, furniture, decorative objects, and picture frames amassed from the 1890s to the 1940s by Arthur and Lucia Mathews.

Likewise, the Cincinnati Art Museum put some of its collection of Rookwood pottery on and An exhibition of nineteenth-century American decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1970 had a salutary effect on rehabilitating that century's artistic reputation. Then, in 1972, an exhibition titled   "The Arts and Crafts Movement in America: 1876-1916" took place at PrincetonUniversity and traveled to Chicago and Washington, D.C. The show and an accompanying catalogue were sparks that ignited an interest that has only grown stronger.

Other shows followed in the 1970s. The "California Design 1910" show and catalogue at Pasadena Art Center was, for example, the first assessment of the movement within an entire state. The 1980s produced many more exhibits, a flood of information in books and articles, and fierce competition for choice objects, as well as record auction prices and a great deal of publicity. In December of 1988, for example, at Christie's auction house in New York City, a successful bid of $363,000 for a ten-foot-long sideboard announced to the world that there was such a thing as the Arts and Crafts movement in America and that it had produced unique and desirable objects.

Today, the Craftsman style has resumed its place as part of a permanent language of decoration. Period furniture and objects are still available through a number of dealers and auction houses. Reproductions of furniture, lighting, textiles, and wallpaper are now widely offered by a variety of companies.

Source: Barbara Mayer In the Arts and Crafts Style San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993 pages 21-23.

Pleasing proportions, beautiful wood and simple lines have made Arts and Crafts
furniture a favorite with furniture makers and an informed public. These days, the rest of the world is also taking an interest. The style that stands midway between the uncompromising lines of early modernism and the wild eclecticism of today's art furniture has become popular enough to be featured in the pages of the L. L. Bean catalog and in the showrooms of North Carolina-based production factories as well as in woodworkers' booths at crafts fairs. It goes by several names: Mission, Stickley, Craftsman, as well as the all-encompassing Arts and Crafts.

With so many of the turn-of-the-century originals widely available in antiques shops, today's craftsmen are updating the style by lightening its scale and hue, broadening its design motifs and introducing needed new forms such as computer furniture, oversize beds, coffee tables and electric light fixtures. ...

Source: Barbara Mayer "Thoroughly Modern Morris" in In the Craftsman Style: Building Furniture by the Arts and Crafts Tradition Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 2001, page 29.

Modernism" or, "The Modern Movement", Considered a Comprehensive Term for a Movement

Generally "modernism" or, "the modern movement", is considered the comprehensive term for a movement -- international in scope -- that arose in the poetry, fiction, drama, music, painting, architecture, and other arts of the West, from roughly 1850, with an impact that -- for some -- continues.

Modernism is considered to have reached its peak just before or soon after World War I, and lasted at an intense level at least into the 1930s.

[must note impact of modernist exhibition 1925]

Still others say that some uncertainty exists about whether it still persists, and a subsequent age of style has begun; e.g., postmodernism.

The furniture designs of William Price have been discussed in the context of the Arts and Crafts movement. This helps greatly to define the movement in general but adds little to an understanding of Price's furniture in particular.

A progressive thinker, Price would have been drawn to the philosophy of the movement but the furniture and woodwork designs emanating from his Philadelphia office before he established Rose Valley were exactly the same as those [hand]made during the short time the Rose Valley shops were producing (1901-6).

Most converts, like Gustav Stickley, found the Arts and Crafts movement and then made furniture to fit the philosophy.

Price made the philosophy fit his furniture.

He was already using the best grades of quartered white oak for the hand-carved woodwork in his domestic interiors.

Oak happened to be the wood of the medieval era, the greatest flowering of handcraft. Quartered oak of lesser quality had been, since the 1890s, the overwhelming choice of huge factories such as those in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that spewed out furniture of every style, including Arts and Crafts or "Mission."

The anti-industrial Arts and Crafts movement would eventually be remembered by the pejorative Mission oak simply because other woods were so little used in the machine-made furniture industry until the oak supply was seriously depleted by 1915.

Price also finished the oak without varnish so that the wood's texture would remain evident as Ruskin had recommended.... [H]is foray into Arts and Crafts philosophy ... illustrate[s] why he insisted over and over again on calling the Rose Valley community, which included the furniture shops wherever they physically stood, an experiment.

The old mill provided a laboratory where Price could try out ideas about how furniture should be constructed and carved. Meanwhile the architectural office downtown had to continue to function regardless of the results of the Rose Valley experiment. Furniture was still being ordered on Rose Valley shops stationery as late as 1913 although by then the process was fragmented.

Price designed a table for a Mrs. Scott, the design was sent to Bissegger to be rendered, Bissegger's drawing was sent to Mrs. Scott for approval, and then Mrs. Scott sent drawings and wood to John Maene who, at this point, had his shop back in the city. Drawings from the architectural office dated 1921 (five years after Price's death) show a Colonial revival dressing table, a step back from the modern furniture designs for the Traymore Hotel.

Had Price lived longer he would have continued to be interested in modernism. As it happened the style he left behind in Rose Valley survived for several decades as "executive Tudor." Architects like Mellor, Meigs and Howe designed furnishings in the antique styles of the Arts and Crafts movement's revered medieval. Handmade for use in country houses built across America, this furniture often met and sometimes exceeded Price's philosophical requirements but, if it was intended to express anything, it was only how much such craftsmanship cost...

Source: Robert Edwards "When You Next Look at a Chair": The Arts and Crafts Furniture of William L. Price" , in George E Thomas, William L. Price: Arts and Crafts to Modern Design Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000, pages 319-330.

As a dissertation topic for his PhD, Miles David Samson wrote "German-American Dialogues and the Modern Movement Before the 'Design Migration', 1910-1933".

Almost all objects and traditions of high culture in the United States -- regardless of the vitality they achieve in their American context -- have originated in at least their formal aspects in Europe

As evidence in support of his claim, Samson cites architecture and furniture design: From the late nineteenth century to the Depression, Samson says, the story of American architecture and furniture design is the story of the borrowing of styles.

However, we must attach an irony to any claim of "borrowing of styles". From the 1880s to the 1930s the most esteemed styles in American architecture were post-Renaissance, which expressed to affluent Americans the power of their money and/or their discovery of the refinements of European culture.

Contemporary account of Motives for Americans Touring Europe in Late Nineteenth Century:-- The Nineteenth Century and After 49 - 1901


The number of Americans visiting Europe every year is steadily increasing, as the wealth of the citizens of the United States grows in amount; there are comparatively few persons in that country, whose means permit, who have not. at one time in their lives, made a tour of at least a part of the Old World, though a single summer may have covered the whole of their absence abroad. With this increase in the number of Americans coming to Europe each year, there are many signs of a more appreciative and enlightened spirit among the American people toward all the European nations; many prejudices have been worn away, and much ignorance has been dispelled, by these foreign travels. The United States to-day, chiefly in consequence of the knowledge which her most influential citizens have derived from their personal observation of all the leading peoples of Europe, is in much closer touch with the world at large than she has been at any time in her history; whatever may be the future national policy, whether favourable or hostile to territorial expansion beyond the Western hemisphere, the United States will never resume the position of entire isolation which she held during the first 125 years of her existence.

The American Republic has now reached a stage in its progress when its citizens no longer feel that their country is really inferior to any other country on the globe. If, in some pursuits and departments of life, the people of the United States are unequal as yet to the peoples of the Old World, in others they are very much superior; so that, when a general balance comes to be struck, the American is sure that he has no reason to think that any inequality exists at all. If Europe can teach the United States very much on the aesthetic side of life, the United States can teach Europe even more on the practical; it is the consciousness of this fact that makes the American, visiting the European countries for the first time, approach the study of the varied conditions of life falling under his eye, in a sympathetic and discriminating spirit, which is more eager to learn and praise than to criticise and condemn.

The American traveller has not many clearly defined impressions of Europe as a whole: that is to say, without regard to the national diversities and variations in its life. Of all his general impressions, perhaps, the deepest, at least in the beginning, is caused by the smallness of the nationalities from a territorial point of view, Russia alone excepted, which is rarely considered because lying off the general track. Accustomed to the physical vastness of the United States, it takes the American visiting England or France, and even Germany and Austria, for the first time, several weeks to realise fully the power of these countries regarded separately; for his conception of national greatness is not derived simply from the mere outward signs of wealth and population, if it were, New York and Pennsylvania would seem to him, on a like casual visit, communities as important as France or England, but it is based also on the geographical extent of a country, in which the possibilities of wealth and population in the future are even grander than the actualities in the present.

When the American, after his arrival on this side of the water, seeks to obtain something comparable with that impression of the power of his own country which he has brought with him, he involuntarily thinks of the whole of Europe, without regard to any national boundaries; but as he grows more familiar with the European nationalities, and acquires a just idea of the wealth and population of each one, the sense of the physical smallness of these nationalities declines. In the end, his appreciation of the greatness of England or France, for instance, lands which could be put away in one corner of the United States, is equal to his appreciation of the greatness of his own country, a conclusion in which mere territorial extent is lost sight of entirely. This is due to the supreme triumph of the impression of mere wealth and population, which is all the deeper in Europe because there wealth and population are massed in a small physical space, and not spread out, as in the United States, over an enormous area. It is only in Europe that- such a concentration of both as London presents would not appear the greatest of economic phenomena.

Periods of Colonial Revival

From the 1880s to the 1930s the most esteemed styles in American architecture were post-Renaissance ones ie, Colonial Revival -- which expressed the power of American money and the American capitalist's discovery of the refinements of European culture.

Source: "German American Dialogues and the Modern Movement Before the 'Design Migration' 1910-1933", Harvard University, 1988.

According to David Miles Samson, the American architect, between 1895 and 1920, Frank Lloyd Wright, was the most original and important architect in the world, but his most appreciative audiences were not in America but in Holland and Germany.

Thus when Walter Gropius and his fellow German modernists migrated to America in 1937-1939, American nativists complained that these German émigré designers merely advanced the revolutionary ideas of Wright, his master Louis Sullivan, and innovative American engineering, which according to Samson (pages 32-33) -- were, until then,overlooked in America.

Although American architects always had the resources to learn about radical European architecture, a self-congratulatory mood within the profession kept most practitioners and critics from feeling the need to similate them.

As evidence, Samson argues that foreign design/architectural periodicals featured photographs of American industrial buildings, which in America were publicized in engineering, business or scientific magazines,but rarely in journals dedicated to architecture.

Here, too, some questions are raised: What kind of relation to modernity did Wright, Sullivan and industrial builders suggest that made them avant-garde, and why did this modernity, if it did not change American architecture in 1900, become such a force for modernism by 1930

For example, the scrollable window below provides tangible evidence of a prominent woodworker, Herman Hjorth, recommending modernistic designs to amatuer woodworkers taken by the "exciting" new "modernity" in furniture designs suitable for homewhorkshop projects.

What I find a little puzzling about Hjorth's observations about modern designs in furniture is that, in the 1920s, he is one of a group of leading voices in industrial arts circles who argued that, for student-projects, students in IA woodworking courses needed to shift away from selecting rectinlenear Arts and Crafts designs to more more satifisying but more difficult Colonial Revival designs. (Link to that material is here.)

We must keep in mind, however, where this article is published. In anticipation of the formation of the National Homeworkshop Guild, Arthur Wakeling commissioned numerous prominent Industial Arts figures to write chapters on a broad canvas of topics associated with America's rapidly expanding home workshop movement. Urban electrification had created many spinoffs -- most notable the fractional-HP electric motor, soon visualized as perfect for powering scaled-down woodworking machines. (See the account -- with several links -- here.)

It is also the story of the rise of American architecture to a profession, with consequences for the self-definition of architects that lessened their ability to profit from their own innovations, while making them sensitive about their failure to do so.

It is also the story of provincials who wanted to be world-class artists while remaining loyal Americans, at a time when both world currents of art and the national mood went against the cultural role architects had taken upon themselves.

German modernist achievements became more relevant when American architects saw that the possibilities suggested by the progressives in the late nineteenth century remained as problems.

The crisis of modernity finally struck American designers where they had reason to feel most secure, their mastery of technical processes and their facility with the representational elements of traditional architecture.

Joseph Aronson and Paul Frankl (scroll down) , each a critic contemporary to the modern period, offer definitions of modernism.

How Popular Homecraft Defined Modernism for Amateur Woodworkers in the 1930s

(Below are selections from a larger piece -- with several images -- that illustrate how 1930s woodworking magazines captured and translated modernistic furniture styles into projects for amateur woodworkers.)

john gerald shea's modern coffee table

Among such designs may be found the Modern Coffee Table; and, while this article is identified with the new furniture, still it possesses a number of refinements which make it eligible for use even with the older and more dignified furniture styles. It is an excellent utility piece, and if not used in front of a sofa as prescribed, it may serve well as an end table beside a living room chair.

John Gerald Shea exhibits his "take" on modernism in this Popular Homecraft article, December, 1937, pages 443-445. The box below includes the image of the coffee table and the first three paragraphs of Shea's article. Look especially at the highlighted portions of Shea's text, because -- for me at least -- they reveal some insight into the "politics" of modernistic design in woodworker's magazines.

In describing his "Modern Nursery Suite", Popular Homecraft May-June, 1938, author I W Streng echoes some of Shea's claims -- but does not elaborate on the finer points -- Streng's text is given on this page.

Likewise, in the opening paragraph for his project, "Modern Bedside Stand", L Kumerov, Popular Homecraft, November, 1937, shows economy of description, simply limiting his characterization of this style to "very much in vogue today", and that it possesses "simplicity of line and form". (More text by Kumerov on this page)

F G Knowles the "Lazy-Rest Porch Furniture", reminiscent of the Art Deco style, popular in the 1920s and 1930s decades. The editors at Popular Homecraft claim Knowles is a "designer", a label not even accorded one of the magazine's regular contributors, John Gerald Shea -- a nationally-recognized author of woodworker's manuals.

Read more here:-- Modernistic furniture in the 1930s


To be a modernist which dates to 1588 first meant a person of modern times , later, person who held holding modern views (for example, Jonathon Swift's 1704 Tale of a Tub)


Modernistic, as an adjective, is formed from English modernist. The example below, shows that "modernist" entered the English vocabulary in 1909:

... Is it not all ... just too "modernistic", too aggressively  "vital", and "practical",  and not too merely illuminating from a pedagogical  standpoint  

Source: W. Caldwell review of  Ethics by John Dewey; J. H. Tufts The Philosophical Review 18, No. 2 March, 1909, pages 221-229.

Modernize, Modernizing, Modernization

It is often possible to distinguish modernizing and modernization from modern, if only because (as in many such actual programs) the former terms imply some local alteration or improvement of what is still, basically, an old institution or system.

Thus a modernized democracy would not necessarily be the same as a modern democracy.

Two words with the roots in the "modern" family, modernize and modernization are used frequently in twentieth-century discourse, come from uses popular in eighteenth century England. For the English scholar, Raymond Williams Keywords, in relation to institutions (e.g., United Nations, World Health Organization) or industry, (e.g, General Motors, Toyota, modernize normally indicates something unquestionably favorable or desirable.

Other examples along the lines of favorability are:

Horace Walpole, Letters, 1748:

"... the rest of the house is all modernized".

Henry Fielding, Works, 1752, 1903:

"I have taken the liberty to modernize the language".

Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison 1753:

"He scruples not to modernize a little".

From these examples we sense a connotation that some alteration of, say, a house's layout,justifies the use of modernize.

Modernism, Modernist

Modernism and modernist have become more specialized, to particular tendencies, notably to the burgeoning of new designs, painting and other art, furniture, art nouveau, arts and crafts, Bauhaus, and writing too complicated to touch on from the 1850s and still continues. The latter connotations, Williams claims, allow distinctions between the modernist and the (newly) modern. Keywords; see also Peter Watson The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century, 2001 pages 59-60.


Modernity dates from 1627. As a cognate -- but often misleading -- form of modern, modernity is "the quality or condition of being modern", or in effect, "an attitude of modernness of character or style".

For some thinkers as early as John Locke (1632-1704), confronting modernity meant more than approving or disapproving of modernity, either as a condition or as a concept; instead, the onslaught of modernity, as an evolving condition in English society in the latter half of the 17th century, was something that you needed to cope with.

The dates of the appearance in public discourse of the word, modernity, and John Locke's birth, are -- ironically -- juxtaposed. Locke's birth, 1632, preceded by three years the first record in the Oxford English Dictionary of the use of modernity in the text of a book,

Yea, but I vilifie the present times, you say, whiles I expect a more flourishing state to succeed; bee it so, yet this is not to vilifie modernitie , as you pretend.

Source: George Hakewill, An Apologie Or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the ...  1635.

Little doubt exists about John Locke being one of the most influential thinkers in the Western World. Since 1690, Locke has been the foundation of the study of linguistics, of political and constitutional practice, of political philosophy, of religion, of educational theory, in short, we can argue that, today, several scholarly industries are sustained by Locke s ideas.

While the content of modernity is often contested, the timing of modernity rarely is.

There is a general consensus that it began in or after the 17th century. Within this broad framework, the exact point in time varies depending on what is taken to constitute the phenomenon, or at least most essential elements thereof. A few such variations can be identified.

To the politically-oriented, the birth of nation-state in 1648 marked the point of departure.

To the scientifically-oriented, it is the Newtonian revolution in the 1680s which heralded the beginning of modernity.

Furthermore, there are those who link the commencement of modernity to the French Revolution in the 18th century or the Industrial revolution between the 17th and 19th centuries.

I focus in this essay on the first two chronological marks of modernity s initiation by organizing the discussion primarily around a cursory reading of the ideas of some of the most well-know European political theorists in the post-enlightenment period, starting from those with whom the birth of the scientific method is associated.

One relevant theme in the discourse on modernity is the intellectually-focused attention which had been paid to human understanding and related philosophical issues.

John Locke, a 17th century English thinker, who also wrote extensively on human understanding, explained the process involved in ways very similar to Ibn-Khaldun. The way ibn-Khaldun saw it: By thinking about things, man achieves perfection in his reality and becomes pure intellect and perceptive soul. This is the meaning of human reality. (p. 334)

Putting it slightly differently, he also argued thus in the language of empiricists: Man is distinguished from the animals by his ability to perceive universals, which are things abstracted from the sensibilia. Man is enabled to do this by virtue of the fact that his imagination obtains, from individual objects perceived by the senses and which agree with each other, a picture conforming to all these individual objects. (p. 382).

Ibn-Khaldun (p. 334) divided human intellect into three types: discerning intellect, experimental intellect and speculative intellect, respectively giving us sensory knowledge, experimental knowledge (which resembles the type of knowledge which is acquired through the inductive method) and speculative or philosophical knowledge, which provides the knowledge, of an object beyond sense perception, without any practical activity (going with it).

The latter one can be easily related to what John Locke (1997: 120-122) had later called reflection, a form of knowledge acquired through the inner senses.

In general, based on the foregoing argument and on further points to be made later in the essay, this author shares Schmidt's (1967: 24) conclusion:

If there is a positive philosophy, based on the ascertainable facts of science, Ibn-Khaldun is, in spite of his Muslim orthodoxy, a philosopher as much as August Comte, Thomas Buckle, or Herbert Spencer. Ibn-Khaldun may, of course, not be the first one to be fascinated with human understanding and philosophy, but he was undoubtedly one of the first to systematically elaborate the concept with a great degree of abstraction. Let us narrow our focus and look more closely at some of the indications of a clear overlap, or at least relationship, between the ideas of Ibn-Khaldun and Europe s modern political thinkers randomly selected by the author.

Source: Seifudein Adem, Hegemony and Discourse: Hegemony and Discourse: New Perspectives on International Relations Washington, DC: University Press of America, 2005, page 4.

Intellectual historians tell us that the meaning of modernity has been a central question in Western society for over two centuries. For Louis Menand (The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2001, Chapter 14), modernity is the condition a society reaches when life is no longer conceived as cyclical. Moreover, it is a term that injects a defineitely 20th century idea, the subconscious, into public discourse.

For example, the year 1905 is destined to play a very specific role in the history of human consciousness. Several writers lay out how Einstein, Freud and the Fauves revolutionized the modern world in the spheres of physics, psychoanalysis and painting. Thérèse Delpech, Savage Century , William R Everdell, The First Moderns , Peter Watson, The Modern Mind , 2001, Peter Gay, Modernism , 2007.

1905 is Known for Three Revolutionary Events

First, in physics, Albert Einstein's paper on the theory of special relativity.This paper and of three others, by him, helped launch an intellectual and scientific revolution comparable to Newton s three centuries earlier.

Second, in art, 1905 saw the first exhibition of the Fauves in the Salon d automne in Paris, a show art historians point to as the beginning of 20th century art .

It happened this way: In 1905, at the Salon d'Automne in Paris, paintings  by Matisse, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Rouault, Albert Marquet, Henri Manguin, and Charles Camoin were exhibited in one room, a room  that also featured a statue by Donatello, the fifteenth-century Florentine sculptor.

The art critic, Louis Vauxcelles,  saw this arrangement -- the calm of the statue contemplating the frenzied, flat colours and distortions on the walls --  he wrote, 'Ah, Donatello Chez les Fauvres. ' (In French, fauve means 'wild beast'.) Not only did the label stick, it helped promote the movement. Each in different ways, these artists, primarily Matisse and Picasso, went on to become premier artists of the 20th century.

Matisse's most notorious works during that early period were other demoiselles de modernisme "Woman with a Hat" and "The Green Stripe", a portrait of his wife. Both used colour to do violence to familiar images, and both created scandals.

Not Picasso. Until then, he had been feeling his way. He had a recognisable style, but the images he had painted of poor acrobats and circus people were hardly avant-garde. They could even be described as sentimental. His approach to art had not yet matured; all he knew, looking around him, was that in his art he needed to do as the other    moderns were doing, as Strauss and Schoenberg and Matisse were doing: to shock. He saw a way ahead when he observed that many of his friends, other artists, were visiting the `primitive art' departments at the Louvre and in the Trocadero's Museum of Ethnography.

This was no accident. Darwin's theories were well known by now, as were the polemics of the social Darwinists. Another influence was James Frazer, the anthropologist who, in The Golden Bough, had collected together in one book many of the myths and customs of different races. And on top of it all, there was the scramble for Africa and other empires. All of this produced a fashion for the achievements and cultures of the remoter regions of `darkness' in the world in particular the South Pacific and Africa. In Paris, friends of Picasso started buying masks and African and Pacific statuettes from bric-a-brac dealers. None were more taken by this art than Matisse and Derain. In fact, as Matisse himself said, `On the Rue de Rennes, I often passed the shop of Pere Sauvage. There were Negro statuettes in his window. I was struck by their character, their purity of line. It was as fine as Egyptian art. So I bought one and showed it to Gertude Stein, whom I was visiting that day

Source: Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer , New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988, page 90

Third, in psychoanlaysis, 1905 witnessed the publication of one of the most important and certainly the most provocative of the works of Sigmund Freud, whose thought was to dominate the century to such an extent that it is not an exaggeration to speak of the century of the unconscious.

One of the many innovations of modernism was the new demands it placed on the audience.

What Watson states here relates to the notion of democratization. Ever since Impressionism -- see page on Salon des Refuses -- finally won the right to exhibit, a democratization of what is considered "art" had begun.

The "refuses" finally won! (Salon des Refuses briefly defined.)

Music, painting, literature, even architecture, would never again be quite so 'easy' as they had been. Schoenberg, like Freud, Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Weininger, Hofmannsthal, and Schnitzler, believed in the instincts, expressionism, subjectivism .

For those who were willing to join the ride, it was exhilarating. For those who weren't, there was really nowhere to turn and go forward. And like it or not, Schoenberg had found a way forward after Wagner. The French composer Claude Debussy once remarked that Wagner's music was 'a beautiful sunset that was mistaken for a dawn.' No one realised that more than Schoenberg.

If Salome and Elektra and Pierrot's Columbine are the founding females of modernism, they were soon followed by five equally sensuous, shadowy, disturbing sisters in a canvas produced by Picasso in 1907. No less than Strauss's women, Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was an attack on all previous ideas of art, self-consciously shocking, crude but compelling.

Sources: Joel Davis, Alternate Realities New York: Perseus Publishing,1997, pages 215-219; Philip G Nord Impressionists and Politics: Art and Democracy in the Nineteenth Century London: Routledge, 2000.


In a premodern society , where the purpose of life is understood to be the reproduction of the customs and practices of the group, and where people are expected to follow the life path their parents followed, the ends of life are given at the beginning of life. People know what their life's task is, and they know when it has been completed.

In modern societies , the reproduction of custom is no longer understood to be one of the chief purposes of existence, and the ends of life are not thought to be given; they are thought to be discovered or created. Individuals are not expected to follow the life path of their parents, and the future of the society is not thought to be dictated entirely by its past.

Modern societies do not simply repeat and extend themselves; they change in unforeseeable directions, and the individual's contribution to these changes is unspecifiable in advance. To devote yourself to the business of preserving and reproducing the culture of your group is to risk one of the most terrible fates in modern societies, obsolescence.


Note: antimodernism = anti-machine

Question: Should arts and crafts furniture be made with power machines?

This is a work in progress, with what falls below the major outline.

Adapted from Tanya Harrod, The crafts in Britain in the 20th Century 1999, pages 15 ff.

This was a debate in Britain around 1916, and relates to the legacy of William Morris. Morris died in 1896. It was a debate, too, that surfaced in America.

Anti-Modernist, anti-machine theme is set by Ruskin

This anti-machine position for creating "art" such as furniture was, in truth, more the legacy of John Ruskin. As early as 1849, Ruskin idealistic promoter of an arts and crafts movement -- declared in his famous Seven Lamps of Architecture that

"machine work is bad, it is dishonest".

Later, in the next decade, by integrating an attack on bad taste and machine -production he continued his "anti-machine crusade", a sweeping attack on nineteenth-century taste and modes of production in The Nature of Gothic, a chapter in the second volume of The Stones of Venice (1853).

For Tanya Harrod, Ruskin introduced "a Ludditeism that was "fierce, symbolic and undiscriminating" For Harrod, Ruskin was singling out the social misery which, for him, underpinned the "production of the fittings and furnishings of a middle-class drawing room."

Notwithstanding Ruskin's bluster, the machines won, particularly in America, where high-ranking followers of Morris and Ruskin's design theories, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and even Gustav Stickley -- the guru of Ruskin and Morris's design theories -- eschewed Ruskin's anti-machine polemic.

A century later, almost to the year -- 1960 -- as a measure of the impact of their critique, Ruskin and Morris's theories are heatedly discussed by the designer David Pye

See David Pye The Nature and Art of Workmanship, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1968,Chapter 10.

Ruskin s values reiterated by Morris

Morris is famous for observing about the impact of the machine :

Art will die out of civilization, if the system lasts. That in itself does me to carry with it the condemnation of the whole system.

The shadow of William Morris upon early 20th century crafts was, evidently, imposing . Morris, in the form of Morris & Company, set up a business that was financially sound, that was supported by the skills of trade craftsmen , and which by the time of his death was well known throughout Europe and the United States. (Harrod . P ) Morris's various houses are well documented and continued to be important extensions of his design vision after his death.

But Morris's Own Position Was Hypocritical

Morris also stands in a problematic relationship to the Arts and Crafts Movement, especially in its late phase, roughly the decade and a half before the First World War. This was partly because the Movement first flourished in the 1880s, when his view of things was intensely political.

But there was another contradiction at the heart of Morris's life and work. The implications of Morris's vision of a "glorious art made by the people and for the people, as a happiness to the maker and the user" is that art objects -- including furniture would be hand made.

(The above link is for text in The Art of the People (1879) in The Collected Works of William Morris -- quote is on page 34 of google print book, but book is only partially available online.)

As Tanya Harrod [The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century (Yale, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), page 16-17], notes, Morris' strictures were

at odds with his own practice as a designer. He worked out his designs on paper and though he went to great lengths to master the technicalities of certain crafts, his designs were carried out by professionalcraftsmen....

Morris, as a sound businessman, kept practice and philosophy separate, apparently believing that only after a full blooded revolution would it be possible for a new art to develop. ...

Harrod claims, though, that Morris was not a Luddite.

It is not this or that tangible steel or brass machine which we want to get rid of ... but the great intangible machine of commercial tyranny, which oppresses the lives of all of us.

Source: William Morris, Art and Its Producers (1888) --

According to Harrod, Morris

"believed that the making of things by hand using simple tools was a pleasurable and worthwhile activity, but in practice he never made a shibboleth of handwork."

Nor, Harrod continues, "did the founders of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, who were primarily designers who turned over their designs to commercial firms or to professional trade craftsmen or women. Yet part of the Morris legacy -- an antipathy to machines -- whose evils were discussed, interminably, on into the 1930s".(not online, but see Peter Floud, 'The Crafts Then and Now', The Studio 1943; reprinted in John Houston, ed., Crafts classics since the 1940s: An anthology of belief and comment, Crafts Council of Great Britain, London, 1988, as cited by Tanya Harrod, The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century (Yale, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), page 17-18; Google Book search shows several other reprintings of Floud's article.)

Defining "Handmade"

The issue is further confused when we try to differentiate between hand and power tools.

The following two paragraphs are from Harrod's text, and -- for clarification -- require more investigation.

What we can say is that by the 1920s, in Britain, the simplest tools and processes were preferred in craft circles, as middle-class men and women embraced Morris's hopes for 'pleasure in labour'.

This care about the means of production had striking artistic consequences .... [A] preference for direct processes meant that the craft movement after the First World War became a narrower affair than the Arts and Crafts of the previous century -- simply because it cut itself off from industrial production.

The preference for direct processes and small workshops and the consequent possibilities for self expression (or self indulgence ) went hand in hand with the popularisation of the crafts. The fundamental texts for this dissemination of handcraft values were the Artistic Crafts Series of Technical Handbooks edited by W. R. Lethaby , the architect and first Principal of the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Appearing from 1901 until 1916, they communicated a precise message. All were directed at the putative designer-maker and were purist and populist and anti-industrial. Lethaby's limpid, idealistic prefaces suggested that preferably the designer should also be the maker and that a living could be made from craftwork. ]

Citation for Series in Worldcat Bibliographic Database: W. R. Lethaby, Artistic Crafts Series of Technical Handbooks ...

Sources: I am indebted to Tanya Harrod   The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century 1999, pages 15 ff; to Wendy Kaplan s introduction to her The Art That is Life ; t To Susan Hegeman s Patterns for America: Modernism and the Concept of Culture for some of the meaning of modern, but I also  consulted Raymond Williams Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, and Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology , Robert K. Barnhart, editor  (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1988). For Hegeman, Modernism is a periodizing concept, characterized by a nexus of related historical, intellectual, technological, and aesthetic developments .