The Arts and Crafts movement in America would not have come into being without its British predecessor. A pushback against the massive surge of industry in mid nineteenth-century England, the British Arts and Crafts movement was based on the principles of beauty, décor, and personal craftsmanship in an attempt to move away from increasingly common mechanization and industrialization.
The concept of beautiful craftsmanship carried to the United States through newspapers and periodicals, and inspired the formation of Arts and Crafts Societies in cities such as New York, Boston, and Chicago in the late nineteenth-century. There were also Arts and Crafts training programs for young women specifically, as the concepts of beauty, simplicity, and interior décor were thought to be inherently feminine. These training programs produced many skilled artists who went on to establish well-known pottery companies, such as Newcomb Pottery.
The first Arts and Crafts exhibition in America was held in Boston, and showcased over 1000 works created by 160 artisans. The Society of Arts and Crafts was established in 1897 after the extremely favorable reception of the Arts and Crafts exhibition. The Society’s stated purpose was to "develop and encourage higher standards in the handicrafts." The overarching goal of the American Arts and Crafts Movement was to stimulate American craftsmanship in the decorative arts, which included artisans of jewelry, furniture, and ceramics.
Inspired by the socialist philosophies behind the British Arts and Crafts movement, craftsmen in the American movement established several "utopian" communities around the United States. The most famous of these communities was the Roycroft community in upstate New York, established by author Elbert Hubbard. The Roycrofters’ goal was to rebuff the generalized machination of society by personally crafting beautiful works themselves in their own cloistered community.
The American Arts and Crafts movement ended by the 1920s, as industry and mechanization moved into the forefront of the American national identity. However, the artists left us with a legacy of distinctive objects from a period when beautiful craftsmanship was not only valued, but highly sought-after.
Frances Williams, University Art Collection Curatorial Intern and Graduate Student in Art and Museum Studies (Spring 2019)