Chapter 3 1911-1920 3:7 Aesthetic Tastes of Decade

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Rise of Colonial Revivalism

Both as a style and as an ideology, Colonial Revivalism is popular, a popularity that continues into the '20s.

Decline of Arts and Crafts Style

In 1915, simultaneously with the bankruptcy of Gustav Stickley's Arts and Crafts operations -- especially his furniture factory and the monthly The Craftsman -- the popularity of Arts and Crafts designs decline.

(The spirit of Arts and Crafts remains though, underground, to be revived again in the 1960s, and continue more strongly than ever into the 21st century.)

Why did it decline? In Arts and Crafts Furniture: From Classic to Contemporary, a lavishly illustrated volume in the genre often referred to as a “coffee-table book,” Kevin P. Rodel, Taunton, 2003, claims that decline occurred ca. 1910-1916, but gives no conclusive reasons.

In another coffee-table book on “arts and crafts furniture”, David Cathers argues that ca 1915,

... the popularity of [Stickley’s] Craftsman wares began to decline, and the qualities that had once made them so appealing – their frank composition, hand-wought surface textures, and muted brown and green earth tones – now looked a little dated as popular taste shifted toward bright colors and formal design.

Source: David Cathers,Stickley Style: Arts and Craft Homes in the Craftsman Tradition, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999


We get another clue about this shift from the social historian, Jeremy R. Kinney, 1999:

Regardless of the style of furniture, finish was the first thing the consumer noticed. Mass magazines published articles to educate the public about the finishing process as well as celebrate American advances in the area. Good Housekeeping reported that in the construction of historical reproductions of handmade eighteenth-century mahogany furniture, manufacturers used varnishes "devised to give the same effect without the skilled and tedious labor demanded" by traditional processes. American furniture manufacturers employed women workers to replicate the century-old patina found on cherished antiques. Regarding painted furniture, the magazine reported that the pneumatic air brush surpassed "hand work in smoothness and beauty of finish" and was capable of finishing twenty-four chairs in one hour. Hand methods produced only four chairs per hour (For documentation, Kinney cites Ralph C. Erskine, "Fine Cabinet Woods and How They Are Finished", Good Housekeeping 72 1921, pages 27, 82,85.)]

Source: Jeremy R Kinney. "We hold the merchandising idea as Paramount": The virtues of flexible mass production in the 1920s American furniture industry Business and Economic History28 No 2 Winter 1999, pages 83-93.

Despite those advances, Kinney continues, finishers still had to sand by hand the furniture after applying two to three coats of varnish or paint, (Kimp demonstrates the claim that furniture was manufactured using mass production techniques – where skilled craftsman were replaced by line workers.) By the end of the 1920s, manufacturers increasingly used synthetic lacquer, which provided a stronger and harder coating, to finish their products.

Sources: Kimp, Harry, "Modern Method of Manufacturing Classical Furniture," Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 52 (1930), page 9; Ransom, Frank E., The City Built On Wood: A History of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1850-1950 Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1955, page 611; White, William B., "Progress in the Wood Industries," Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 51 (1929), page 1, as cited by Kinney, in box, above.

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