Arts & Crafts Movement

The Arts & Crafts Movement – 1862-1914

Tulip_and_Willow_William MorrisSome background information on of some of the leading figures involved in the movement & the cultural context in which the movement began.
The arts & Crafts movement ran from around 1862-1914 and is generally recognized as having had great influence on modern design in Brittan & extending even to Europe, the United States & even Japan in the form of the Mingei movement.
The movement was conceived in response to the negative social and aesthetic consequences of the Industrial Revolution. With the rise of consumerism & the responding industrial provision of goods, people had traded their rural lifestyle, which provided comfort comradeship & familiarity, for life in the urban factories and the dark satanic mills, which was far removed from what they were used to.
The members of the Arts and Crafts Movement included artists, architects, designers, craftsmen and writers. They feared that
industrialization was destroying the environment in which
traditional skills and crafts could prosper, as machine production had taken the pride, skill and design out of the quality of goods being manufactured.


The Arts & Crafts Movement Trellis_wallpaper
believed that hand crafted objects were superior to those made by machine and that the rural
craftsman had a superior lifestyle to those who slaved in the urban mills and factories. They were
convinced that the general decline of artistic standards brought on by industrialization was linked to the nation’s social and moral decline. {The art factory-Online}

William Morriss age 53

The main players.
William Morris. (1834-96)
Morris was a well educated man who studied the Classics at Oxford university, however, he became disillusioned by modern Victorian standards & became much more influenced by romantic ideals of Medievalism. In Oxford he became involved with the Birmingham Set, a group of students at the university whose interests were largely literary but played a significant roll in the birth of the Arts & Crafts Movement.


Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898)
Burne-Jones was an artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Burne-Jones was closely involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in Britain.

John Ruskin

Charles Faulkner
Another member of the Birmingham Set and a founding member & financial manager of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Although he remained as a shareholder, he left the business in 1864 with doubts that it would ever find a sound financial footing. Something he was proven correct in as the high quality nature of the works they produced could only be afforded by the more well off in society and not the common people the group championed. He would however retain close ties with his friends & colleagues.
John Ruskin
A prominent art critic, painter & draftsman, he greatly influenced William Morris & the students of the Birmingham set after reading his letters “Fors Clavigera”. These letters, or pamphlets were written on a variety of topics that Ruskin believed would help to communicate his moral and social vision. He was principally concerned with developing a vision of moral value in sincere labor.



Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)
An English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and





Philip Webb

Philip Webb
Webb is particularly noted as the designer of Red House at Bexleyheath for
William Morris. Webb and Morris formed an important part of the Arts and Crafts movement, and founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877. With Morris he wrote the SPAB Manifesto, one of the key documents in the history of building conservation. Webb also joined Morris’s revolutionary Socialist League, becoming its treasurer.

Why was the arts & Crafts Movement started.?
Established in 1862 by William Morris in response to the changing world around him, namely the proliferation of a more mechanized & automated world of manufacturing. He believed that mechanization was resulting in the decline of skilled traditional craftsmanship & he became more & more disillusioned with modern Victorian values. In a large sense he was right, but there was no stopping the long march of progress.
The industrial revolution impacted society in many ways. The growth of capitalism & industrialization had an impact on class structure. The old divisions of society into clergy, nobility & commoners was demolished & in its place was created the working class and the growth of the middle class or bourgeoisie.

Industrial Revolution 01
Industrial Revolution

Where the working class came from a world where everyone participated in various or even all stages of a project they were now finding that their work was being broken down into smaller more specialized rolls more suited to improving the efficiency of large scale production. This reduced worker satisfaction & sense of worth and over time sowed the seeds of resentment that lead to social misbehavior.
As the middle class or bourgeoisie emerged it challenged the wealthy in the rule of industry & entrepreneurship. The “new money” enabling those of this new social standing to “acquire” the social trappings & personal belongings once only available to those of nobility or gentry and those of the old money tradition.
The increase in production & the need to streamline & automate products for the mass market inevitably resulted in a loss of quality & identity that would be associated with hand crafted or artisan products. This loss of traditional values and personal self worth is what spurred William Morris to act.
In 1871, John Ruskin began his monthly “letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain”, published under the title Fors Clavigera. In the course of this complex and deeply personal work, he developed the principles underlying his ideal society. In all of his writing, he emphasised the connections between nature, art and society. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognised as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability and craft.

John_Ruskin_1850s_Life Magazine
John Ruskin 1850s Life Magazine

Having read the writings of Ruskin, Morris set about rebuilding the reputation & regard for hand crafted & artisan products by producing work that did not value quantity over quality. He gathered a group of artists from all areas of the arts to produce all kinds of products from painting, sculpture, poetry & prose, glass & pottery and so on.




In 1861, William Morris along with his colleagues Charles Faulkner & Edward Burns-Jones founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in an attempt to bring back the artisan product to the common market. The company were united by a common set of aesthetics, that sought to reassert the importance of design and craftsmanship in all the arts in the face of increasing industrialization.
Its supporters and practitioners were united not so much by a style than by a common goal – a desire to break down the hierarchy of the arts (which elevated fine art like painting and sculpture, but looked down on applied art), to revive and restore dignity to traditional handicrafts and to make art that could be affordable for all.


A passionate Socialist, Morris proclaimed, “I do not want art for a few, any more than I want education for a few, or freedom for a few, ” {Styles Schools & Movements – Amy Dempsey – Thames & Hudson 2002}

The anti-industrial structure of the firm was based on the concept of medieval guilds, in which craftsmen both designed and executed the work. Its aim was to create beautiful, useful, affordable, applied-art objects, so that art would be a lived experience for all, not just the affluent. The members of the company turned their hands to designing and producing domestic objects, including furniture, tapestry, stained glass, jewellery, furnishing fabrics, carpets, tiles and wallpaper.
However, though the movement was successful in raising the status of the craftsman and promoting respect for native materials and traditions, it failed to produce art for the masses: its handmade products were expensive.


By the 1880s one could live in a house designed by Webb, decorated with Morris wallpaper, with ceramics by William de Morgan and paintings by Burne-Jones, while wearing clothing based on Pre-Raphaelite dress – but only if one was wealthy.

Arts and Crafts interior designed by Edward Poynter. This is now inside the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
In 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, named after the village near Oxford where he had lived since 1871. The Kelmscott Press produced high quality hand-printed books to be seen and cherished as objects d’art.
Morris designed and cut the typefaces, ornamental borders and title pages which were based on the style of medieval manuscripts, while the illustrations were created by the Pre-Raphaelite, Burne-Jones. The books were printed on handmade paper, copied from 15th century Italian samples, and bound in vellum.
Although Morris looked to the past for inspiration, his aims anticipate modernist ideas on typography and layout. Morris says: ‘I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty, while at the same time they should be easy to read and should not dazzle the eye……I found I had to consider chiefly the following things: the paper, the form of the type, the relative spacing of the letters, the words, and the lines; and lastly the position of the printed matter on the page. {Artyfactory – Online}
The Arts & Crafts Style
One of the hallmarks of the Arts & Crafts movement was Simplicity. It rebelled against the over decoration found commonly on victorian era furnature & other designed pieces, often being as stripped back as to have some of the construction & structure of the piece visible. Emphasis was placed on preserving the natural qualities of the materials used.
The artists & craftsmen drew a lot of their inspiration from patterns & forms in the nature around them. They also drew inspiration from the traditions of the crafts people in the countryside, and often set up workshops in the rural countryside to continue & even revive old techniques.
Medieval Guilds provided a model for the ideal craft production system. While aesthetic ideas were also borrowed from Medieval European and Islamic sources. Japanese ideas were also incorporated into early Arts and Crafts forms.
Cabinet_Lewis_Forman_Day - 1888
The forms of Arts and Crafts style were typically rectilinear and angular, with stylized decorative motifs reminiscent of medieval and Islamic design.
One designer of this period, Owen Jones, published a book entitled The Grammar of Ornament, which was a sourcebook of historic decorative design elements, largely taken from medieval and Islamic sources. This work in turn inspired the use of such historic sources by other designers. {}

Adjustable-Back_Chair Gustav_Stickley,_1900-1904
Adjustable-Back_Chair Gustav_Stickley,_1900-1904


As the Arts & Crafts Movement reached maturity, it attained greater domestic elegance & coherence, concentrating far more on the middle class home than on the grand interiors of the early Morris & Co. commissions.
The Arts & Crafts house symbolized warmth and shelter, informality and welcome, and was inspired no longer by the Gothic cathedrals but by the cottage & the farmhouse.
{Arts & Crafts Style – Isabelle Anscombe.
Phaidon press: 1991. Pg: 99}


In time the English Arts and Crafts movement came to stress craftsmanship at the expense of mass market pricing. The result was exquisitely made and decorated pieces that could only be afforded by the very wealthy. Thus the idea of art for the people was lost, and only relatively few craftsman could be employed making these fine pieces. This evolved English Arts and Crafts style came to be known as “Aesthetic Style.” and shared some characteristics with the French/Belgian Art Nouveau movement.
Migration of the Arts & Crafts Movement
However in the United States, the Arts and Crafts ideal of design for the masses was more fully realized, though at the expense of the fine individualized craftsmanship typical of the English style.
In New York, Gustav Stickley was trying to serve a burgeoning market of middle class consumers who wanted affordable, decent looking furniture. By using factory methods to produce basic components, and utilizing craftsmen to finish and assemble, he was able to produce sturdy, serviceable furniture which was sold in vast quantities, and still survives. The rectilinear, simpler stikley_rectiliniar designAmerican Arts and Crafts forms came to dominate American architecture, interiors, and furnishings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Today Stickley’s furniture is prized by collectors, and the Stickley Company still exists, producing reproductions of the original Stickley designs.
“Unlike their counterparts in the United States, most Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain had strong, slightly incoherent, negative feelings about machinery. They thought of ‘the craftsman’ as free, creative, and working with his hands, and ‘the machine’ as soulless, repetitive, and inhuman.
These contrasting images derive in part from John Ruskin’s – The Stones of Venice (first published from 1851-1853), an architectural history of Venice that contains a powerful denunciation of modern industrialism to which Arts and Crafts designers returned again and again. Distrust for the machine lay behind the many little workshops that turned their backs on the industrial world around 1900, using preindustrial techniques to create what they called ‘crafts.’”
Alan Crawford, “W. A. S. Benson, Machinery, and the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain”{Alan Crawford, “W. A. S. Benson, Machinery, and the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain”, The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Vol. 24, Design, Culture, Identity: The Wolfsonian Collection (2002), pp. 94-
Stickley & Co Modern




1931-_vase_Shoji Hamada
1931-_vase_Shoji Hamada

Although the Arts & Crafts Movement in Britain was in decline from the early 20th century, the style found favor in mainland Europe. America & even as far afield as Japan.
The Mingei (Folk Crafts) movement in Japan was led by the philosopher and critic Yanagi Sōetsu and officially established in 1926. It was equivalent to, and very largely inspired by, the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and Europe. John Ruskin and William Morris, whose work had been available since the1880s,were major influences. Knowledge about subsequent developments in Europe also reached Japan.
As with other Arts and Crafts developments, the Mingei movement emerged during a time of rapid change. In Japan, this involved westernisation as well as industrialisation and urban growth. Mingei philosophy recognised this international and urban dimension, but at the same time asserted a new sense of Japanese national identity.
Introducing the idea that humble goods could be inherently beautiful,
leaders of the Mingei movement advocated the use of historical folk crafts as the starting point for new craft production.


The Full PDF presentation can be found here.

Hugh Shelley HND 01 – The Arts & Crafts Movement Presentation


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