Arts And Crafts
A new book celebrates the unsung Northwest contribution
During his 1909 lecture tour to the West Coast, the renowned British Arts and Crafts designer C.R. Ashbee presented three lectures in Seattle. Unimpressed by what he referred to as the crowding, pollution and degradation he had seen in New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago, he was fascinated and delighted with the West. Ashbee wrote in his journals that Seattle was "the only American city I have so far seen in which I would care to live. All the gold of Ophir would not tempt me to live in one of those smug Eastern cities. . . . Here is a city with a new light in her eyes."
His wife, Janet, remarked on the city's cosmopolitanism, its "well-appointed restaurants decorated with the latest Arts and Crafts distinction of line and coloring." While searching downtown restaurants in today's Seattle will not yield any that Mrs. Ashbee would have visited, her comments reveal that Seattle and the Pacific Northwest were participating actively in the important design and reform movement that had roots in 19th-century Britain.
But despite all the activity here, our region has been covered only as an occasional footnote in the plethora of books and articles about the Arts and Crafts movement in America. That is what Glenn Mason and I hoped to change in putting together "The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest" (Timber Press, $39.95). It is our effort to explore comprehensively the Arts and Crafts legacy in this corner of the country. Our research covered a wealth of journals, articles, promotional materials, photos and illustrations of the period — leading us to world's fairs, artists, architects, craftspeople, manufacturers and entrepreneurs in Seattle, Portland, Spokane and smaller communities throughout the region.
Along the way, we discovered that the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement — the celebration of craftsmanship and the creative process; an appreciation of sound construction, pleasing proportion, grace and simplicity; and a comfortable rusticity that sees beauty in nature and honors indigenous materials — found fertile ground in Washington and Oregon. Individuals and companies in these two states were influenced in their introduction of new ideas and products, and sometimes adapted generic designs to reflect the Northwest climate, topography, indigenous cultures and Pacific Rim communication and trade.
Look and listen at the fair
Historic Seattle kicks off its 10th annual Bungalow Fair and Arts and Crafts Lecture series with a presentation by Lawrence Kreisman and Glenn Mason on their new book, "The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest," along with a book signing and reception, 7 p.m., Sept. 27, downstairs at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave. Admission is $20.
The Bungalow Fair, with more than 50 exhibitors of antiques and new crafts (admission $10) and three additional lectures (tickets $10 each) runs Sept. 29-30 at Town Hall. Discounted prices for Historic Seattle members. Tickets: 206-622-6952 or www.historicseattle.org.
The effect was seen in a remarkable variety of public and private architecture, including progressive commissioned residences, rustic lodges and bungalows for everyone. Architects and designers, striving to create environments of domestic comfort, found what they wanted in the stock of locally available logs and cedar shingles, river rock and stone.
Anonymous amateurs and significant regional artists alike also crafted furniture, tile, metalwork, lighting, leaded and stained glass, jewelry, ceramics, china painting, textiles, leatherwork and basketry. Local artists and designers jumped in just as enthusiastically to showcase painting and printmaking, photography, graphic arts, book design and illustration.
Art instruction and manual-arts courses in the public schools encouraged students' prolific production of handmade Mission-style furniture and accessories. Regional architecture clubs organized exhibitions of both nationally and locally known architects and interior designers. Arts and Crafts societies trained art workers and hobbyists alike. Handicraft and fine-arts exhibitions were regularly held in the region. These exhibitions often encouraged establishment of regional museums. There were also modest salesrooms organized by art groups in Portland, Spokane, Bend and elsewhere.
The styles and ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement continued to exert a strong influence on residential neighborhoods well into the Depression years, despite the slowdown in house construction and a sluggish economy. The rebirth of interest nationally in the Arts and Crafts movement during recent decades has had an impact on the restoration of inner-city housing, new construction in the Craftsman style, and a seemingly endless attraction to objects and accessories that reflect "the simple life." In particular, they focus on the value of rest to be found at home as the pressures and complexities of daily life mount. The movement has come full circle as a new generation of regional artists and craftspeople are embracing the belief system expressed a century ago by "head, heart and hand."
Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and co-author of "The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest."