Document 63:--
Gustav Stickley, "The Use and Abuse of Machinery, and its Relation to the Arts and Crafts" The Craftsman 11, No 2, November 1906, pages 202-07.

Quarter Oak; Quarter-Sawn Oak

Prairie Style

Fumed Oak

tenons and keys,


inlay: -- glossary_inlay.htm -- this page made with TEA software.

exposed tenons,

many pieces ornamented with hand-wrought copper or iron hardware.

These structural elements -- both functional and symbolic -- not only held the furniture together but also expressed moral and aesthetic values.

Pottery, lamps, The Craftsman magazine, and plans for Craftsman homes were also included.

"Quadralinear Posts/Legs" -- begun by Gustav Stickley in , the technique is refined by L & JG Stickley

Stickley introduces Spindles in 1906, after slats in 1901.

rectilinear lines of his furniture, lend themselves to production by machine

check on John Crosby Freeman's claim about ending of stickley's "mediavelism"

The Stages of Stickley's Arts and Crafts Furniture Production, 1898-1916

His work can be divided into four distinct periods:--

the early Experimental Period, from 1898 to 1900;

the First Mission Period, from 1900 to 1904;

the Mature Period, from 1904 to 1910; and

the Final Mission Period, from 1910 to 1916.

Experimental Period, 1898-1900

Stickley's early attempts at producing furniture betray an unsure vision. For example, an advertisement for a Morris Chair in 189? shows a "derivation" of the original Morris Chair. My apologies for the poor quality of the image; it comes from an 1898 newspaper file on

Derivation, used above, is a term that comes from

Donald A. Davidoff and Stephen Gray, Innovation and Derivation: the Contribution of L.& J.G. Stickley to the Arts and Crafts Movement Morris Plains, NJ: The Craftsman Farms Foundation, 1995. Stephen Gray, in his "This Exibition: A Preview", on pages 15-19, usefully lays out the terms "innovation" and "derivation" in relation to the creative of impulses of Gustav's brothers, Leopold and J. G. Stickley, noting in particular

Leopold [Stickley's] production has been disparaged as "derivative" of Gustav's, so it must be examined in reference to it and in the context of other designers of the Arts and Crafts movement as well. Some of Leopold's work is derivative, in a way, being inferior copies of Gustav's seminal pieces. Other pieces deriving from Gustav's work extend the vocabulary of the style and cannot be dismissed. And some pieces are innovative and propel the movement in directions not taken by Gustav.

Just as the museum curators Donald A. Davidoff and Stephen Gray sought to examine the alleged "Innovation and Derivation" of Leopold in relation to his brother, Gustav, so to this same theme, Innovation and Derivation, can to be applied to the initial attempts of Gustav himself, in relation to the English Arts and Crafts movement, to derive a defining style.

During his first years as an Arts and Crafts furniture maker, from about 1898 to early 1904, Gustav Stickley and his designers created the most significant cabinetwork his firm would ever produce.

Source: David Cathers, Furniture of the American arts and crafts movement: furniture made by Gustav Stickley, L. & J. G. Stickley, and the Roycroft Shop

cross-section for four-sided post

However, Gustav's initial attempt itself -- the image is an 1898 newspaper advertisement for Gustav's Morris Chair-- betrays a lack of conviction about a defining design. Below, on the right, we see a more hesitant departure from original inspiration, Morris's original 1875 design for the chair that bears his name.

For the most part made of white, quarter-sawn, American oak, this furniture was substantial, subtly proportioned, essentially rectilinear, and built using traditional joinery:--

gustav stickley's morris chair, 1898

However, Gustav's initial attempt itself -- the image is an 1898 newspaper advertisement for Gustav's Morris Chair-- betrays a lack of conviction about a defining design. Below, on the right, we see a more hesitant departure from original inspiration, Morris's original 1875 design for the chair that bears his name.

cross-section for four-sided post

"When the idea came to me that the thing for me to do was to make a better and simpler furniture, I naturally went about it in the most direct way. Having been for many years a furniture manufacturer, I was of course familiar with the traditional styles, and in trying to make the kind of furniture I thought was needed in our homes, I had no idea of attempting to create a new style, but merely tried to make furniture which would be simple, dura­ble, comfortable, and fitted for the place it was to occupy and the work it had to do. It seemed to me that the only way to do this was to cut loose from all tradition and to do away with needless ornamentation, returning to the plain principles of construction and applying them to the making of simple, strong, comfortable furniture...."

Source: "Craftsman Furniture", Stickley's 1909 Catalog, page 3; as cited by David Cathers, Furniture of the American Arts and Crafts Movement New York: New American Library, 1981, page 33.

The First Mission Period, 1900 to 1904

"Accepting as my basis the two principles of simplicity and adaptability to purpose, and intending from this basis to develop and mature a style..."

Source: Gustav Stickley, "Cabinet Work from the Craftsman Workshops," 1906 catalog.

Stickley's second period -- the First Mission Period -- which began around 1900, features heavy structural de­signs which reflect of his Craftsman philoso­phy. This furniture is -- to quote David Cathers -- "massive tenon-and-key construction appeared, as did chamfered boards -- Stickley referred to them as V-jointed -- joined together by internal splines, and exposed tenons. Increasingly, the designs grew more rectilinear and straight-lined, "with the modest carved ornamenta­tion of his Experimental Period giving way to more geometrical designs".

An ex­ample of Stickley's First Mission Period, a 1901 side chair, plain and rectilinear, with exposed tenons and dowels, shows how Stickley progressed in defining his struc­tural style since the Experimental Period chair above.

Mature Period, 1904-1910

"I had hit upon an idea which was to have a far greater success than even I had hoped for."

Source: Gustav Stickley, "Craftsman Furniture," 1912.

Stretching from 1904 to 1910, Stickley's third period -- called his Mature Period, and considered his most productive period -- produced most of the pieces that survive today.

His furniture designs continue to exhibit his Craftsman doctrine, i.e., usefulness, durability, and comfort. Moreover, be­cause of the volume of production, Stickley simplified and standardized techniques of construction and applications of hardware.

However, standards of con­struction and finish remained at high levels. The V-back side chair, one of Stickley's favorite designs, typifies his mature style. No chair equals the V-back as an expression of Stickley's Mature Style. Its stretcher arrangement, minus the exposed tenons, is like the First Mission Period chair on page 39, but the gentle V-shape of its crest rail and the refined proportions create a much more elegant design. By 1909, at the height of his Mature Period, Stickley had put a great deal of distance between himself and the philosophies underlying the English Arts and Crafts furniture which had so greatly influenced his earlier efforts.

In that year he wrote:

Like the Arts and Crafts furniture in England, it [Craftsman furniture] repre­sented a revolt from the machine-made thing. But there is this difference: the Arts and Crafts furniture was primarily intended to be an expression of individuality, and the Craftsman furniture was founded on a return to sturdy and primitive forms that were meant for usefulness alone."

In these years, Stickley's commitment to the decorative value of artic­ulated structure continued to be strong, even though the structural elements of these pieces were not as forcefully expressed as they had been during his earlier periods. The heavy chanfered boards which formed the backs of early bookcases and desks disappeared and were replaced by laminated oak panels. The pieced muntins from bookcase doors were replaced by muntins which simply butted together. Tenon-and-key construction appeared less frequently, and tenons were more likely to end within the mortise rather than piercing through.

Stickley's first commercial use of veneer appeared during this period, enabling him to enhance his furniture with the decorative effects of matching grain patterns. The furniture of this third period rarely exhibits the visual excitement associated with his early styles, but it does have a simplicity, a correctness of proportion, and a purity of form that gives it great beauty. Certainly Stickley's most dramatic designs of the Mature Period are his spindle and Ellis-derived curved pieces. Perhaps of the pieces shown, the three-drawer library table on page 218, the two-door book­case on page 105, and the nine-drawer chest on page 158 are the most representative of this period.

It is apparent that Ellis, even though he died at the beginning of 1904, greatly influenced Stickley's Mature Period. Ellis's inlaid furniture ex­hibited construction details totally unlike those found on Stickley's First Mission Period designs. As we have pointed out, the inlaid pieces were lighter in feel and had paneled backs, overhanging tops, curved aprons, bowed sides, and, occasionally, veneer. Since these elements are found in many Stickley pieces made between 1904 and 1910, it may be said that Ellis's designs, produced during Stickley's First Mission Period, fore­shadowed

Stickley's Mature Period.

During Stickley's Mature Period, the different types of hardware found in his First Mission Period (except for the oval pulls) were re­placed by hand-wrought copper and iron hardware which was deco­rated with deep planishing marks and a rich brown patina. The new hardware assumed three basic shapes: the V-shape first used in 1904, the flattened V-shape first used in 1904, and huge round pulls which appeared on built-ins in THE CRAFTSMAN in 1908, but were not used on furniture until 1910. Stickley continued to use wooden knobs through­out his mature production years, but in this period the square-faceted pulls gave way to round ones similar to pulls found on Shaker furniture.

Document 63:--
Gustav Stickley, "The Use and Abuse of Machinery, and its Relation to the Arts and Crafts" The Craftsman 11, No 2, November 1906, pages 202-07.

A short time ago, I received a circular issued by the management of a prominent Arts and Crafts Society of which I am a member . . . According to the announcement, the exhibits are to be limited strictly to

"handiwork of original design, as the exhibition is organized for the one purpose of showing the supremacy of the hand over the machine, in craft work making claim to artistic quality."

This circular seems to me to express so exactly the prevailing idea of what is meant by the word "craftsmanship," that I am impelled to make at least the effort to show how serious are the limitations of this idea, and how far it is from going to the root of the matter and revealing the one essential element of craftsmanship, which is not the mere idea of doing things by hand, but the putting of thought, care and individuality into the task of making honestly and well something that satisfies a real need.

stickley's morris chair 1906-1907

In the revolt against the utter lack of vitality or of artistic quality in the great mass of machine-made products that owe their existence solely to the artificial demand created by commercialism, enthusiasts for the revival of the handicrafts have not only allowed themselves to be carried to an extreme in the opposite direction, but have fallen into the selfsame sin against true craftsmanship by encouraging the making of things for which there is no manner of need, and which, not being the outgrowth of a fundamental necessity, have in them no element of living art.

The time is ripe for the birth in this country of a national art—an art that shall express the strongly individual characteristics of the American people, but, like all art, it must spring in the first place from the common needs of the common people. All new growth must start from a return to root needs, or root principles, and unless there is a going back to these to gain a fresh point of departure, all that is done expresses merely the restlessness of a constant search after novelty, not the natural growth of a new and vital form of art. Merely to make things by hand implies no advance in the development of an art that shall' live and make its own place in world-history as a true record of the thought and life of this age, anymore than the making of them after "original design" implies that these designs are the outgrowth of thought based upon that need which is the root of inspiration to the true craftsman, as well as upon his personal desire for self-expression.

There is no question that the Arts and Crafts movement is a step in the right direction. It is one phase of the world-wide desire to get rid of the cumbersome arti­ficialities that clog so much of modern life. But is it making "great strides" in the development of artistic craftsmanship in America? It is interesting, and it sounds well, to speak of "showing the supremacy of the hand over the machine," but can it be put to the test of a generally practical application and can an exhibition held for this sole purpose mark any distinct advance? In England, the original home of the Arts and Crafts movement and where it has attained its greatest development, there is no sign that a new school of art is growing up, for the great majority of the exhibitions are merely exhibitions of individual cleverness at playing with new toys that mean no more than the old. On the continent, the followers of L'Art Nouveau are for the most part committing fantastic extravagances that simply emphasize their desire to revolt from the conventional, without giving the world anything better in its place . . .

For the most part, all that is achieved is a jumble of so-called decorative forms that are founded neither upon need nor reason, and so are worse than the forms they seek to replace, and do nothing beyond adding to the world's stock of useless things . . .

Now, the decorative form is the first consideration, and the structure is made to conform to it, an evidence on the face of it that the piece exists to express a decorative idea, not because there is any real need for it. It is play instead of work and it embodies no element sufficiently vital to carry it beyond the realm of the studio. Because of this it evokes no real response from the great body of people, and so is no true expression of the collective thought of the age. It is a sense of the vitality that distinguishes the handiwork of former days that has produced the present reaction to handiwork as infinitely superior to any product of the machine.

As a matter of fact, given the real need for production and the fundamental desire for honest self-expression, the machine can be put to all its legitimate uses as an aid to, and a preparation for, the work of the hand, and the result be quite as vital and satisfying as the best work of the hand alone. The Mere question of hand work as opposed to machine work is largely superficial. The prime object of the industrial arts is to produce articles which satisfy some material or mechanical requirement, and any method of working allowable which really effects that object in the simplest and most straightforward manner. The modern trouble lies not with the use of machinery, but with the abuse of it, and the hope of reform would seem to be in the direction of a return to the spirit which animated the workers of a more primitive age, and not merely to an imi­tation of their method of working.

The invention of modern machinery is in itself a notable achievement of the true spirit of craftsmanship. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the inventor of a machine that is meant to do any particular work, is himself a master of that work and has turned all his ability toward the finding of some means by which it may be more perfectly, as well as more easily, done. When rightly used, that machine is simply a tool in the hands of the skilled worker, and in no way detracts from the quality of his work. Almost anything that can legitimately be done by machinery can be done much more swiftly, accurately and economically than by hand.

Also, to use a good machine that runs well and does its work as if by magic affords fully as much pleasure to the worker as the most interesting hand work. It is simply the best means to attain a desired end. and his interest is in the work itself and the result he is trying to pro­duce—not in the way he is doing it. Naturally, in making this statement I refer only to purely mechanical labor, where the quickest and most economical way of doing the thing required is just so much gained in time and strength.

For instance, to use an illustration that is surely on my own ground, an expert carpenter or cabinet-maker will save much time that can be used to better advantage, and will lose nothing of the artistic quality of his work, if he makes use of the adequate modern machines for sawing, planing, boring, mortising, scraping, sandpapering and otherwise preparing his material for use, instead of insisting that all of these things be done by hand.

It should be the privilege of every worker to take advantage of all the improved methods of working that relieve him from the tedium and fatigue of purely mechanical toil, for by this means he gains leisure for the thought necessary to working out his designs, and for the finer touches that the hand alone can give. So long as he remains master of his machinery it will serve him well, and his power of artistic expression will be freed rather than stifled by turning over to it work it is meant to do.

The trouble is that we have allowed the machine to master us. The possibility of quick, easy and cheap production has so intoxicated us that we have gone on producing in a sort of insane prolificness, and our imaginary needs have grown with it. Originally intended to make simpler and easy the doing of necessary things, the introduction of machinery with its train of attendant evils has so complicated and befuddled our standards of living that we have less and less time for enjoyment and for growth, and nervous prostration is the characteristic disease of the age.

The old simile of the sewing machine exactly expresses the state of affairs. Its introduction was to be a boon to overworked woman by relieving her of the tedious hours of stitchery and so giving her more leisure for other things or for rest, but to her the means of doing ten times as much work in an hour as she could do by hand meant simply an opportunity to put ten tucks into a garment instead of one. Instead of adding something to her life, the machine took away more than it brought, for it encouraged the desire for senseless and needless elaboration and so made her work harder and more confining than before. When she ornamented a garment made by hand, the ornamentation was the expression of her own thought of beauty, but with the mechanical ornamentation made possible by the machine there grew up in her mind a false idea of mere elaboration for its own sake, and so the machine mastered instead of serving her.

And one of the chief dangers of machinery lies in this very matter of mechanical ornamentation. True ornament is always the spontaneous expression of the individuality of the worker . . .

But if he makes a chair that is first of all shaped by the mere desire to produce a novelty, and then proceeds to overlay it with a mass of machine-made carving or embossing that is utterly meaningless and has no other purpose than to appeal to false standards of the desirability of elaboration . . . he has merely added to the heterogeneous mass of superfluous and bad stuff with which our homes are too much cumbered as it is. This is a danger of machinery, for it is most easily done in that way, but the same thing applies to meaningless ornamentation done by hand.

Handiwork is no better than machinery if the thing produced be needless and without meaning, and the principle to be established appears to me to be, not the su­ primacy of the hand over the machine, but the supremacy of the thing that is needed over that which is made more or less as a pastime. The much-talked-of return to simpler and better things and the revival of the old spirit of craftsmanship can come about only through a process of drastic elimination, followed by a return to primitive principles of construction based on primitive needs.

It is not a piling-up of new things that is needed, but a new point of departure from which can be developed a genuine national tart. When a thing is made because it is needed, that need creates its own limitations of form and decoration, and with that in mind one can not go very far wrong. In spite of all the talk about the revival of handiwork as the one essential to the development of "artistic craftsmanship," it is impossible to reverse the conditions that have obtained since the introduction of machinery and to return to making everything by hand. Machinery can not be abolished, nor should it be, but it can be mastered by the growth of truer standards and made to keep in its place and to do its own work.

If people would reject all machine-made ornamentation as false to the fundamental principles of decorations and therefore inherently bad, they would go far toward limiting the machine to its legitimate uses, and the best and most vital forms of handicraft would spring up spontaneously and flourish under modern conditions as lustily as they did of old.

Also, if the needless things were relentlessly thrown out of the house, there would be a just appreciation of what remained, and the making of the really necessary belongings would once more be a matter sufficiently important to warrant individual care and thought. This once established, there would be no danger in the use of machinery, and no need to give exhibitions for the one purpose of showing the supremacy of hand work, for the real friendliness of machinery to the handicrafts would be shown in the growth of an industrial art as vital and lasting as that of the medieval craftsmen toward whose methods of work it is now the fashion to cast such longing eyes.