2016 Sunset Report

OLG & DCRT Strategic Plan
2020-21 through 2024-25


Did you know?
Table of Contents Section 1 Section 2 Section 3 Section 4 Selected Bibliography

When English architect, painter, poet and socialist William Morris set out to furnish Red House, his newly-built home designed by fellow Pre-Raphaelite artist Philip Webb, Morris found the decorative arts to be in what he described as a state of total degradation. In fact, Morris was so dissatisfied with machine-made crafts that in 1861 he founded his own company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., to produce high-quality wall paper, stained glass, needlework, furniture and ceramic tiles for the home. This company was the springboard for what became a new vision, the Arts and Crafts movement.

The movement quickly gained international support and spawned the establishment of potteries, bookbinderies, and needlework shops. In the late nineteenth century in New Orleans, Arts and Crafts ideals were seized upon and the artistic climate grew dramatically to produce an important and unique slice of American craft development: Newcomb Pottery.

Old Newcomb Chapel
William Woodward
Oil on board
Loaned by Dr. I. M. Cline

Newcomb Pottery Tile
Sadie Irvine, decorator

The Birth of the Arts and Crafts Movement
From the beginning of industrialization in England in the late 18th century, there were critics of the social and artistic consequences that first water and then steam power brought. Concern for both the condition of the working man as well as the end products of machines was voiced as early as 1834 by A. W. N. Pugin, who equated aesthetic with moral ugliness. In 1851, John Ruskin, the first professor of art history at Oxford University, outlined in The Stones of Venice why hand wrought ornamentation was superior to that made by machine, stating that "all cast and machine work is bad; as work . . . it is dishonest." These early reformers advocated a return to the medieval guild system where artists controlled the entire creation of an object from start to finish. William Morris became the major proponent for change through his example as the ultimate craftsman working within a guild-like definition.

The reform movement took shape after the first ever international exhibition, the 1851 Crystal Palace Exposition in London, where England’s displays highlighted technological advances in machines and machine-made items. There, British decorative art presentations fared poorly next to German and French exhibits of porcelain and glass. As a result, English artisans were motivated to redefine their craft.

Toward this end, institutions were established to teach principles of good design. The National Art Training Schools program was launched in South Kensington in 1852, offering a variety of courses to men and women, including china painting. Several well-established potteries took advantage of the talented students and formed cooperative efforts in the 1860's and 1870's. Minton’s (est.1796) used student decorators from the South Kensington School, and the Doulton Pottery (est.1815) employed china painters from the Lambeth Art School.

The Arts and Crafts Movement in America
Historically, America often mirrored British art trends, and before long the utopian goals of Ruskin and Morris jumped the Atlantic. The Arts and Crafts movement roared into American cities through new educational programs, international fairs, lectures and writings.

In the 1870's schools with training programs similar to those in England were established in the United States: the Cincinnati School of Design offered its first courses in 1872; the Massachusetts Normal Art School opened with a curriculum to train educators in 1873; and the Rhode Island School of Design began its course of instruction in the applied arts in 1878. Like their transatlantic predecessors, these institutions taught Arts and Crafts ideals of quality design. Many of the instructors were in fact themselves products of the English model schools.

The 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition featured numerous ceramics displays, including examples from the South Kensington School, Minton’s and the Doulton art pottery. The Exposition presented to the American public French barbotine and Oriental wares, both of which inspired early art pottery decoration in the United States. William and Ellsworth Woodward, brothers who would become monumental figures in the development of art in New Orleans, attended the Philadelphia Exposition. In his later years, William wrote of the "potent awakening impulse given by the Exposition." So influenced was he by the Exposition that he enrolled in classes at the Rhode Island School of Design just one month after its organization; younger brother Ellsworth followed one year later.

New York Times art critic George Ward Nichols echoed sentiments of English reformers when he published in 1877 his widely-read Art Education Applied to Industry, in which he expressed his fear of machinery replacing man. Nichols advocated improved public art education, the establishment of new museums and the presentation of more exhibitions. Three years later, Nichols’ wife Maria Longworth founded Rookwood Pottery, one of the cornerstones of the art pottery movement in this country.

Numerous transatlantic excursions continued to disseminate tenets of the movement. Leading British proponents Oscar Wilde, Walter Crane, Charles Ashbee and Christopher Dresser toured, lectured or exhibited artwork throughout the US between in the 1880's and 90's. Likewise, Americans visited leading English reformers when creating their own communities, businesses and craft guilds: H. H. Richardson and Elbert Hubbard both visited William Morris; Gustav Stickley traveled abroad to meet Charles Voysey and Charles Ashbee. The cultural exchange continued into the 20th century, feeding the growth of the movement.

In fact, reform ideals were so enthusiastically received in America that in 1897 both Boston and Chicago founded their Societies of Arts and Crafts. The first major United States Art and Crafts exhibit was staged in 1897 at Boston’s Copley Hall. Fabrics, wallpapers and furniture from Morris’ company were retailed at Chicago’s Marshall Field & Company in 1902. The William Morris Society was organized in the same city in the following year.

Early American Art Pottery
Revived interest in craft led to a proliferation of art potteries, concentrated in Ohio, Massachusetts and New York. Ohio led the country in the art pottery revolution, beginning in the progressive city of Cincinnati. There, Maria Longworth Nichols experimented with ceramic paints as early as 1871. The following year, a china painting class was offered to society women at the Cincinnati School of Art. Of the class, one student remarked that "tidings of the veritable renaissance in England under the leadership of William Morris and his associates had reached this country." Mrs. Nichols continued her investigation of clay and established Rookwood Pottery in 1880. Rookwood was at the forefront of ceramic development in this country; in 1883 it introduced its velvety-glazed "Rookwood Standard," created through the innovative use of spray apparatus.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the country was alive with hundreds of small clay manufactories, each striving to create beautiful, utilitarian wares that would unite art and craft. These early art potteries drew inspiration for form and decoration from France, England and the Orient.

The Women’s Movement
In addition to improving aesthetics, the English training programs also sought to train young women in a craft which would allow them to make an honorable living. This theme occurred repeatedly during the late nineteenth century and was practiced in dozens of programs in both England and the United States, including the Kensington School of Needlework, the New York Society of Decorative Art and the Newcomb College.

In the United States, as women sought to better their education and employment opportunities, the suffrage movement became inseparably intertwined with the Arts and Crafts movement. Women had a profound influence on the spread of Morris ideals. That both the Rhode Island School of Design and the Cincinnati School of Design were founded by women is hardly coincidental.