Chapter 1:7 1900 and Before:-- Aesthetic Tastes

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Parallel Movements in America's History of the Decorative Arts


For a period of perhaps twenty years, from the early 1890s to the First World War, the first Arts and Crafts Movement flourished in North America, especially on the East Coast and the Old Northwest. Starting roughly as the 1960s blended into the 1970s, the second Arts and Crafts Movement started to "pick up steam" and -- as the first decade of the 21st century closes -- shows no sign of abating. Taken together, these two movements constitute a phenomenon of historic magnitude only rivaled by the parallel existence of the Colonial Revival movement.

Briefly, these two movements can be sorted out by noting the following similarities and contradistinctions:

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, springing from several motives, including a nativistic revulsion to the wave of new immigrants arriving on American shores by the millions, Americans fell in love with old houses and their furnishings. This movement helped launch a passion for historic preservation and restoriation and created a mania for collecting American antiques. Also, this nativistic sentiment inspired the revisionist style of colonial architecture -- the Colonial Revival -- which continues today.

On Colonial Revival, Read More Here: Directory of "Notes" on Colonial Revival Movement

The Long Reach of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and Europe

Coincidentally, the Colonial Revival movement's quartet of values -- "utility, truth, naturalness, simplicity" -- were those being promoted by the anti-industrial English Arts & Crafts Movement, both in Britain and America. It was a movement begun early in the 19th century, in part as a volatile reaction to the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British society, but also in part inspired by a revolution in design theories and decorative arts practices:-- A W N Pugin's Neo-Gothic designs, John Ruskin's art theory and criticism, and William Morris's capacious craftsmanship and declamations. The British Arts and Crafts movement rejected shoddy work and any wholesale embrace of machine production of consumer goods in favor of handcrafted goods in a "vernacular" style.

By returning to pre-industrial handcrafted quality and truthful design, leaders and followers of the Arts & Crafts movement alike believed that the lives of both designers and consumers would be more wholesome. Like the Colonial Revival folks, adherents to Arts and Crafts were committed to a quartet of values: -- "the useful, the truthful, the natural, and the simple" -- and found inspiration in designs from medieval, Japanese, Egyptian, Greek sources, at the same time, projecting strong hints of a "Modern movement".

The six parts of this significant revolution in design theories and practices is laid out here

Basically Americans embraced Arts & Crafts ideals because they, too, were dismayed by industrialism. After the Civil War, production boomed as industry used the manufacturing capacity and transportation developed for the war effort to flood the peacetime market with new consumer products. Machines displaced hand-workers. Young people-including young women--left rural America to work in "the mills." Inventories and period illustrations show that the number of objects in American homes rose abruptly. Yet, consumers complained about the shoddiness of American products. Above all, adherents of Arts and Crafts saw themselves as "tastemakers".

On Arts and Crafts, Read More Here: Directory of "Notes" on the Arts and Crafts Movement in America

Sources: Wendy Kaplan, ed., "The Art That Is Life": The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920 Boston: Museum of Fine Arts/Little, Brown and Company, 1987 pages 173-81, 383; William B. Rhoads, "The Colonial Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement," in Bert Denker, ed., The Substance of Style: New Perspectives on the American Arts and Crafts Movement New York: W. W. Norton, date?; Jean Dunbar, "The Colonial Revival", Early American Homes 31, No 1 February 2000, page 52;



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