Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Arts and Crafts

he Milwaukee Art Museum is hosting an exhibit on the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Arts and Crafts Movement name was coined in 1887, when a group of designers met in London to found an organization-the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society-for which applied art would be valued as equal to fine art. Many in the movement championed the moral and spiritual uplift that would come with the revival of making objects by hand. The improvement of working conditions, the integration of art into everyday life, the unity of all arts, and an aesthetic resulting from the use of indigenous materials and native traditions also were central to the movement's philosophy.

The Arts and Crafts Movement, in large part, was neither anti-industrial nor anti-modern. While its adherents idealized the pre-industrial past, they did not reject the present. They believed that machines were necessary but should be used only to relieve the tedium of mindless, repetitive tasks. Britain, at the very epicenter of the Industrial Revolution, was the center for designers most opposed to the dehumanizing consequences of factory production. Without joy in labor, making goods would have neither merit nor value. At the same time, they felt that objects should be affordable and useful, and therefore, objects such as the exhibition's Small Window Bench, made by the Charles P. Limbert Company in 1907, were produced in factories. The conflict between these two beliefs, and the attempts to reconcile them, comprised the focus of design debates during the first two decades of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the movement was overtaken by two world wars, which pushed industrialization and mass production into the forefront, and giving rise to the following period of "modern" design, the best of which was expressed by Brooks Stevens and his ilk, and the worst of which tends unfortunately to be still with us.

The exhibition contained many lovely items from books (a Canterbury Tales printed by William Morris and illustrated by pre-Raphealite painter Edward Burne-Jones--oh, drool!) to tableware, furniture, and architecture. Some of the pieces were beautiful, some bizarre, but they tend to share a sense of homey design and having been made by and for real people. I think it no coincidence that watercolors of Scandinavian and British designs tend to look like Tolkien's paintings of Bag End--. There were examples given from nations I had never associated with the movement, such as Finland and Hungary, and a well-produced concise timeline for each country. This exhibit was fascinating and well worth the time.
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