The movement started in Britain in 1880, when the Industrial Revolution became a concern for its detrimental effect on workers. As well as the impact on learning traditional skills, and design itself.
The aim was to reverse dehumanisation in the working-class, to bring art back into the home, uplifting the inhabitants. This was due to John Ruskin’s social criticism, who criticised the Industrial Revolution, believing that a ‘healthy and moral society’ required workers who designed the things they made. Examples of Arts and Crafts became popular with the middle and upper classes, and eventually dominated the interior style in Britain.
Crossover with Art Nouveau
They both originated in the 1880s, and went out of fashion a decade between each other (Art Nouveau finished in the 1910s, Arts and Crafts in the ‘20s). They also shared some of the same ideals, both heavily influenced by nature. Art Nouveau made use of the technologies and materials available, unlike Arts and Crafts, which used it inconsistently. Art Nouveau – while still sought after –is not mass produced in great number, while Arts and Crafts examples are still being made.
Arts and Crafts encompasses traditional craftsmanship, often using the original forms of materials where possible, and avoiding any methods used in mass-production factories. Fabrics had fainter colours, as natural dyes were used over the factory-produced dyes. Guilds formed across the country, based on Medieval craftsmanship guilds. Arts and Crafts looked to the past, to the traditional skills, quality of craftsmanship and better conditions for workers, which they hoped to emulate.
The movement incorporated a range of mediums and pieces turn up at auction frequently. Identified by the use of natural materials, themes inspired by the countryside, and metal retaining a hammered texture to recognise its handmade quality. The level of detail in Arts and Crafts ranges from simple to extremely intricate (William Morris’ work especially detailed). Hearts often symbolised friendship, and sailing ships represented the journey of life into the unknown.
William Morris was the main influence on the movement. He used strong colours, and a lot of his inspiration came from nature. He created a publishing press in 1891, publishing classics such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury tales, elaborately decorated and in a small type, all expensive and time consuming to produce.
CR Ashbee, architect and designer, founded the Guild and School of Handicraft in London, which eventually relocated to the Cotswolds. After Morris’ publishing press Kelmscott Press closed in 1897, Ashbee formed his own, The Essex House Press, which produced more than 70 titles.
Known for his stylised bird and plant forms. An architect, furniture and textile designer. Influenced by Morris, the movement and Art Nouveau. His furniture designs were known for their simplicity, most of his wooden pieces left to their natural finish. A lot of his work can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Martin brothers – the work of the four pottery manufacturers often referred to as Arts and Crafts – as it is of the period, and handmade. The work depicts both real and mythical creatures in salt glaze stoneware, with subdued colours. The Martin brothers’ style is very distinctive, and unlike any other Arts and Crafts designer. Their approach to business was just as unusual. The kiln only fired once a year, and even then, each piece exposed to the flames. This meant that often, not many pieces came out of the kiln intact, from an entire year’s work.
William De Morgan
Lifelong friend of Morris, De Morgan was a potter, tile designer and novelist. He became more notable for his novels than his pottery pieces when he was alive. Despite this, his pottery work is displayed in numerous galleries and houses owned by the National Trust. Often inspired by 15th and 16th Century İznik ware, depicting fantastic creatures, the surface of which was reflective and metallic.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Often thought of as both Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts, his work also crosses into Modernism. Elongated and geometric forms, his style featured plants, symbolism and a limited colour range, as well as elongated lettering. He collaborated with his wife, and her sister and her husband, becoming known as ‘The Four’ or ‘Glasgow Four’.
Eventually, production costs became too high for the Arts and Crafts movement. The legacy of relationship between design and quality of life still stands, and Arts and Crafts is still popular today.
Arts and Crafts Houses
Seeing examples of Arts and Crafts pieces are good on their own, but it doesn’t compare to visiting an Arts and Crafts house.
The Red House, in Bexleyheath, London. Morris commissioned the house from his architect friend Philip Webb in 1859, and moved in a year later. Morris & Co. was established here. The house features many original examples of Morris’ work, as well as work by Burne-Jones. A Pre-Raphaelite wall painting was uncovered in 2013 during conservation work. If you fancy a visit, you must pre-book first.
Blackwell, known as the ‘Arts and Crafts House’, overlooks Lake Windermere in Kendal, Cumbria. MH Baillie Scott built it as a holiday home for Sir Edward Holt. The house features many works from the leading Arts and Crafts designers: furniture from Morris & Co and Baillie Scott himself, ceramics by Pilkingtons, and Ruskin Pottery. Lakeland Arts Trust manage the house, holding art exhibitions throughout the year.
Port Sunlight, a model industrial village located in the Wirral, Merseyside. William Lever built the village for workers in his soap factory. This village also has a purpose-built art gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery. The gallery is dedicated to the memory of Lever’s wife, Elizabeth, and has an extensive collection of Wedgwood jasperware and Pre-Raphaelite paintings.