Topics of Interest
The American Arts and Crafts Movement

During the last three decades of the 19th century the British Arts and Crafts Movement emerged as a broad-based artistic reform movement.  A reaction against the excesses of Victorian ornamentation and detail, the movement was built around the philosophical writings of William Morris and John Ruskin.  By simplifying the design of furniture, architecture and utilitarian objects to what could be produced by hand from good artists and artisans, the movement sought to reunite the worker with the beauty, craftsmanship and utility of their respective trades.  

The American Arts and Crafts Movement, began in this country around 1896, when two enthusiastic American proponents, Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley,  focused on creating new lines of handcrafted furniture based on honesty and simplicity.  Both men wrote and published extensively about the beauty of their simple forms of furniture with simple chamfered boards free of excessive ornamentation and with exposed tenons and other expressed simple joinery. By 1901, Stickley began publishing "The Craftsman" a monthly magazine which quickly became the voice of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States and thus disseminated in this country the principals of the Craftsman philosophy, that the use of arts and crafts objects in the home environment must be linked to the methods of their artisans and the social fabric under which they were produced.

By 1904 Stickley had broadened his scope of his magazine to focus on the ideal of "The Craftsman House".   The work in southern California of the architects, Charles and Henry Greene, fascinated him in particular.  The Greene brothers, were schooled in their teens at the Manual Training High School of Washington University in Saint Louis, a school strongly influenced in the philosophies of Morris and Ruskin.  Later they studied architecture at MIT and began practicing architecture in Pasadena, California in 1893.  For the next decade, their work in the Pasadena area was one of experimentation with simple geometric forms expressed with honest and straightforward details.  The wood detailing found in Japanese architecture would also strongly influence their work during this decade.

By 1903, a new style was emerging in their work which would come to be known as the "California Bungalow" style.  The homes they designed during this decade generally included a studied series of low-slung gables with ample overhangs, expressed projecting beams, wood angle braces and rafters.  The home's exteriors usually expressed natural wood and shingle materials, as well as stone and masonry.  The interiors were completed with exquisite wood detailing and joinery, unlike any wood interior expression found anywhere, before or since.  While these homes were larger than what would become popularized as the "bungalow style", their work assembled and expressed virtually all the elements that would make up this popular style.

In 1908, Sears Roebuck in their widely distributed mail order catalog, began selling house plans with the material for these homes in precut building kits.  The best selling of these kits were for variations on the "basic bungalow", and thus the "California bungalow" began to appear  in neighborhoods, from coast-to-coast.  The "bungalow style" continued to develop and proliferate through-out the teens and twenties, until the stock market crash of 1929, which would end most of the interest in the arts-and-crafts bungalow, until its recent resurgence and re-interpretation.

Many of the older neighborhoods in Asheville, which were built between 1900 and 1930, were very influenced by the arts-and-crafts style.  Many of the homes in these local neighborhoods are outright examples of the arts-and-crafts bungalow.   Those that are not outright examples are mostly of a regional style which includes clipped gables, pebble-dash stucco, German siding, and Victorian detail mixed with arts-and-crafts detailing

The interest in the arts-and-crafts style and detailing is very strong today.  In Asheville, this interest is fueled by a national Annual Arts-and-Crafts Conference held at the Grove Park Inn each February.  Some are suggesting that today's interest comes from a human need for "knock-on-wood", fine craftsmanship and detailing as an antidote to living in a virtual internet world, in a similar way that the arts-and-crafts style of 100 years ago was an antidote to the dehumanization of the industrial revolution.    

Recommended Reading:

1)        Greene & Greene, The Passion and the Legacy
           Randell L. Makinson,  1998
2)        The Bungalow: America's Arts and Crafts Home
           Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister, 1996
3)        American Bungalow Style
           Robert Winter and Alexander Vertikoff, 1996