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Gustav Stickley (American, 1858–1942)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American designer and publisher. During most of the period 1875–99, he worked in various family-owned furniture-manufacturing businesses around Binghamton, NY. He travelled to Europe in the 1890s, seeing work by Arts and Crafts designers. In 1898 he established the Gustave Stickley Company in Eastwood, a suburb of Syracuse, NY. The following year he introduced his unornamented, rectilinear Craftsman furniture inspired by the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris. He adopted a William Morris motto, ‘Als ik kan’ (‘If I can’), as his own and used the symbol of a medieval joiner’s compass as his trademark. In 1903, he dropped the ‘e’ in the spelling of Gustave.

Stickley published The Craftsman (1901–16), a periodical devoted to the Arts and Crafts Movement. The first issue was dedicated to Morris, the second to Ruskin. Most issues contained articles and illustrations of Craftsman furniture by Stickley. The periodical contained information on American and foreign designers, Japanese and Native American crafts, manual arts education, socialism and gardens. The architect Harvey Ellis wrote articles and produced house designs for The Craftsman and may have designed furniture for Stickley in 1903–4. There were Craftsman articles on American architects, including Wilson Eyre (1902, 1909, 1912), Charles and Henry Greene (1907, 1912) and Louis Sullivan (1906), and a series of 26 articles (1909–12) by the English architects Barry Parker and Charles Unwin. Stickley’s interest in garden cities led to articles on Letchworth, Herts, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London (1909), and Forest Hills Gardens, NY (1911).

Stickley’s interest in furniture design extended to a wider interest in house design. He established the Craftsman Home Builders’ Club in 1904 through his magazine. Readers could order complete plans of houses published monthly in The Craftsman. Although these houses varied in size and building materials, their ground floors were usually open, and they typically included such details as small-paned casement windows, exposed ceiling beams, built-in furniture, prominent fireplaces and flat, naturally finished board panelling. The W. T. Johnson House (designed 1909) in Lyons, NY, is a typical small Craftsman house. It is one and a half storeys in height with a broad porch across the front. The exterior is shingled. The 11.3 m long living-room has an inglenook with a fieldstone fireplace and built-in settee. Hammered metal Craftsman light-fittings were used throughout the house. Dumblane, the S. Hazen Bond house in Washington, DC, is one of the larger Craftsman designs. It was built in 1912 from a modified 1904 Craftsman plan. Two storeys high with dormers, Dumblane was built of large bricks with oiled cypress exterior woodwork and a pergola on three sides of the house. The open ground floor has a 19.8 m axis from the dining-room through the entrance hall to the living-room fireplace. Stickley liked log-houses, which he considered to be especially American in character. He built a log-house (1909–10) at his Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, NJ. It was planned to be the clubhouse for an ideal crafts community with a boys’ school and workers’ cottages. Although the community never materialized, he lived in the house until 1915. The logs are exposed on the exterior and interior of the one and half-storey house. At each end of the house there is a large fieldstone chimney.

Stickley expanded his business activities constantly. For a short period in 1909, his Craftsman House Building Company constructed houses in New York and New Jersey. In 1913 he opened a 12-storey Craftsman Building in New York to house his publishing and design offices, crafts exhibitions, furniture showrooms and a restaurant. He declared bankruptcy in 1915 as a result of taking on too many ventures. At the peak of his career, Stickley was one of the most important leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the USA. His furniture was sold throughout the country, and Craftsman houses were built in many areas. The Craftsman magazine was widely read. After his bankruptcy, Stickley was largely forgotten until the 1970s when his importance as a designer and spokesman for the movement was rediscovered.

Mary Ann Smith
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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