A true understanding of the significance of the movement requires some investigation into the broad field of its work. As the name implies, Arts and Crafts is an effort to associate art and industry; not an effort to do away with machinery, but rather to encourage individual expression in the craftsman's work and to bring beauty into the every-day things of life. It is an outgrowth of the effort to draw away from the bad designs, over-ornamentation, and poor workmanship of the factory age, and to return to simplicity and beauty in workmanship.
Realizing that the expression of art is not restricted to painting and sculpture, the effort is made to bring truly beautiful furnishings into the homes of all, and to create the desire for the beautiful and useful, rather than for the over-ornate and useless. By thus creating a demand for the artistic, the workman who can make beautiful things will be given an opportunity to express himself in truly individual work. There are many people who have not the great genius necessary to produce wonderful paintings, but whose skill might find expression in the lesser arts. These men who know and are true to the material, the construction, and the tool find pleasure in work, and the thing produced is its own inspiration and its own reward. Yet we all must live, and there must be sufficient money compensation for our work.
If hand-made articles produced under the desired conditions are to command a good price, the public in general must be educated to appreciate the value of honest workmanship, to appreciate beautiful materials and simplicity, and to demand the few things, excellent, rather than the many, poor in quality. Therefore a movement such as we are considering must educate not only the worker, but the public as well. The buyer must be able to distinguish the good from the bad. Not all handwork is good, although in the fad for such work anything hand-made is prized by many.
In its development, the Arts and Crafts movement has worked along various lines. In England there are several methods of expression, among which are the production of works of art craftsmanship by individuals, by schools and lectures, by communities, by exhibitions and museums. Village industries have been developed in which weaving, pottery, metal, leather, and other handwork is carried on. Museums in connection with these industries furnish inspiration, and shops in the village or in a near-by city provide a market for the product. Exhibitions and lectures arouse public interest, aid in forming a demand for the Arts and Crafts products, and tend to elevate the public taste in house furnishing.
In America the English example has been followed.
The Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, in 1876, aroused the American artistic world to the utter lack of crafts work produced in this country. By 1893, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, it was possible to gather a fair collection illustrative of industrial art, and the situation seemed more encouraging. These and the later expositions at Buffalo and St. Louis aided in creating a sentiment for beauty in all lines of decorative and applied arts as well as in the fine arts. In 1897, in-spired by William Morris and his English followers, the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts was organized. The first organization of its kind formed in this country, its purpose was and is "to develop and encourage higher artistic standards in the handicrafts." The membership of the Boston society embraces not only those practicing some branch of decorative art, "Craftsmen" or "Masters," but also "Associates," those interested in the work, but not necessarily designers or crafts workers. A shop is maintained in which all articles for sale must have been approved by a jury. It is proving a financial success as well as a place that attracts those who desire beautiful objects not made by wholesale.
Other societies, following the same general scheme as that of Boston, have been founded in different cities, and shops more or less successful have been established all over the country. As might be expected, the standard of excellence is not always upheld. Amateurs, without a thorough training in design, have rushed into the work, and many of their products are not worthy of approval. Yet there is a distinctive quality about the articles found in such shops which attracts the thoughtful and artistic public.
These clubs, societies, and shops are but one. branch of the movement. They provide a market for the handicraft worker, and, the best of them at least, assure the purchaser that he is getting honest wares. The criticism is often made that the prices for these wares are too high, but he who buys may have the satisfaction of knowing not only that his purchase will be durable, but also that the man who made it is receiving something more than starvation wages.
Village industries have been started in this country, after the example set by the English. The crafts carried on are often revivals of old industries flourishing before the factory system crowded out all handwork. Old looms and old designs are brought out of attics, and under the guidance of trained hands, beautiful rugs, towels, coverlets, and many other articles are produced. Close to nature, with nature's inspiration, and under most favorable conditions, these crafts are carried on.
Deerfield, Massachusetts, is perhaps the most famous of the village industries. Here wood carving, metal work, pottery, weaving of many kinds, embroidery, and other crafts flourish, and the demand for the products always exceeds the supply. The sleepy New England village has been awakened to a new prosperity, worthy of its fine old homes and beautiful streets.