Hand and Machine in Harmony: Regional Arts & Crafts
October 24, 2020 – January 23, 2021
Second Floor, Hunting Gallery
This exhibition will be presented in two parts:
West Michigan (October 24, 2020-January 23, 2021)
The Midwest (February 13-April 24, 2021)
At the turn of the 20th century, Grand Rapids was a city dominated by the furniture industry. In 1903 it was home to ten thousand skilled woodworkers who worked in forty furniture and home décor factories. Its designers and manufacturers were eager to sweep away the past and create a modern style for a new century. This exhibition introduces the work of two important Grand Rapids manufacturers, Charles P. Limbert of the Charles P. Limbert Company and Albert Stickley of the Stickley Brothers Company, both of whom embraced and reinterpreted the ideals of the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Accompanying the work by Limbert and Stickley is metalwork created by the Forest Craft Guild, based in Grand Rapids and established by artist and craftsman Forrest Mann.
The Arts and Crafts aesthetic was characterized by simple, rectilinear forms that valued function over decoration. The heavy embellishment and gilded surfaces of the past century were replaced with clean lines, non-precious materials, and organic form and color. The Arts and Crafts movement emerged in England in the mid-19th century out of concern over the negative effects of the industrial revolution and the loss of traditional handcraftsmanship. While these British designers cautioned against machine production, American designers, like Limbert and Stickley, saw an opportunity to merge the fine craftsmanship and style of the English Arts and Crafts movement with factory production. By creating a harmony between machine production and handwork, Limbert and Stickley produced furniture that was well-made, beautifully designed, and available and affordable to the middleclass.
Artist, metalworker, and educator Forrest Mann was pivotal in bringing the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement to Grand Rapids. He founded the Grand Rapids Arts and Craft Society in 1902, where he taught classes in wood carving, jewelry making, and ceramics. He then founded the Forest Craft Guild of craftworkers in 1905. Organizations of craftworkers, like the Forest Craft Guild, worked closely with the city’s furniture companies. The Guild is believed to be responsible for the lampshades produced by both the Stickley Brothers and Limbert companies and its members were likely commissioned to create other handwrought metalwork for Stickley and Limbert’s designs. The Guild produced and sold work in silver, gold, copper and brass, some with semi-precious stones, including a wide range of jewelry, desk sets, trays, candlesticks, lamp shades, leather purses, jewelry boxes and “various other things in which the opportunity for originality and artistic handiwork is to be found”.