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Gustav Stickley is perhaps the most nationally and internationally-recognized name among American furniture designers and manufacturers. His seminal contribution to the rise of the American Arts and Craft Movement is unprecedented and has earned him an honorary seat at the pantheon of the great American Men and Women. Stickley to the United States is like Thomas Chippendale to Grate Britain or Michael Thonet to Austria. His career was like a roller coaster ride, with ups and downs, twists, and turns but always on the right track to advance our field – making valuable furniture to use, admire, respect, and appreciate. In a recent documentary by Herb Stratford, we learn about Stickley’s rise to fame, his leadership role in the American Arts & Crafts Movement, his original furniture design and aesthetic philosophy, and even his experimental work on furniture finishes.
Influenced by the luminaries such as philosopher John Ruskin, and the Arts & Crafts utopian William Morris, and in strict about-turn from the ornate and curvy fashionable design of his time, Stickley began making furniture that had rectilinear designs, formidable structure, and pronounced joinery. Beginning in the late 1800s using darkly stained quarter-sawn oak and proportionally-heavy pieces, Stickley carved out a completely new style of cabinetry, tables, and chairs that went literally against the grain of the furniture of his time. Then in the early 1900 and in collaboration with architect and delineator (illustrator) Harvey Ellis he created some of the most elegant pieces ever to be made in the Arts & Crafts style. These later pieces were a distillation of Stickley’s earlier work: lighter, thinner, and with lesser emphasis on pronounced joinery. The Stickley-Ellis collaboration yielded more complex projects which incorporated subtle accent inlay decoration, the openness of shapes, and loftiness of proportions.
In the documentary, Stratford leads us through Stickley’s career landmarks. He invites us into Stickley’s homes and workshop, exposes us to his drawings and designs, his achievements and disappointments, and he lets us rediscover and appreciate one of the iconic furniture designers and influencers in recent history.
To watch/stream the documentary visit this website: https://www.firstrunfeatures.com/gustavstickley_playdates.html
And to read more about Arts & Crafts furniture do check out Nancy Hiler’s excellent book English Art & Crafts Furniture or check out the Gustav Stickley tag on Popular Woodworking.
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