The Arts and Crafts movement emerged from the attempt to reform design and decoration in mid-19th century Britain. However, the design reformers of the mid 19th century did not go as far as the designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement. By contrast, the Arts and Crafts movement was as much a movement of social reform as design reform, and its leading practitioners did not separate the two.
For example, he advocated truth to material, structure, and function, as did the Arts and Crafts artists. William Morris (1834–1896) was the towering figure in late 19th century design and the main influence on the Arts and Crafts movement. Morris began experimenting with various crafts and designing furniture and interiors. He was personally involved in manufacture as well as design, which was the hallmark of the Arts and Crafts movement. Unlike their counterparts in the United States, most Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain had strong, slightly incoherent, negative feelings about machinery. Medieval art was the model for much Arts and Crafts design and medieval life, literature and building was idealised by the movement. " William Arthur Smith Benson, on the other hand, had no qualms about adapting the Arts and Crafts style to metalwork produced under industrial conditions. Few of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society insisted that the designer should also be the maker. Many of the Arts and Crafts Movement designers were socialists, including Morris, T. J. Cobden Sanderson, Walter Crane, C.R.Ashbee, Philip Webb, Charles Faulkner, and A.H.Mackmurdo. Lewis Foreman Day was another successful and influential Arts and Crafts designer who was not a socialist, despite his long friendship with Crane.
By 1890 the Guild had 150 members, representing the increasing number of practitioners of the Arts and Crafts style. Ashbee designed jewellery and silver tableware. C.F.A. Voysey (1857–1941) was an Arts and Crafts architect who also designed fabrics, tiles, ceramics, furniture and metalwork. By 1910, there was a fashion for "Arts and Crafts" and all things hand-made. The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society held eleven exhibitions between 1888 and 1916. Nikolaus Pevsner in his book Pioneers of Modern Design presents the Arts and Crafts Movement as design radicals who influenced the modern movement, but failed to change and were eventually superseded by it.
Thus the Arts and Crafts philosophy was perpetuated among British craft workers in the 1950s and 1960s, long after the demise of the Arts and Crafts movement and at the high tide of Modernism. British Utility furniture of the 1940s also derived from Arts and Crafts principles. He manufactured furniture in the Cotswold Hills, a region of Arts and Crafts furniture-making since Ashbee, and he was a member of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. William Morris's biographer, Fiona MacCarthy, detected the Arts and Crafts philosophy even behind the Festival of Britain (1951), the work of the designer Terence Conran (b. 1931) and the founding of the British Crafts Council in the 1970s.
In Wales a key promoter of the Arts and Crafts movement was Owen Morgan Edwards.
Widely exhibited in Europe, the Arts and Crafts style's simplicity inspired designers like Henry van de Velde and styles such as Art Nouveau, the Dutch De Stijl group, Vienna Secession, and eventually the Bauhaus style. In Iceland, Sölvi Helgason's work shows Arts and Crafts influence.
In the United States, the Arts and Crafts style initiated a variety of attempts to reinterpret European Arts and Crafts ideals for Americans. In Canada, the term Arts and Crafts predominates, but Craftsman is also recognized. They claimed that the simple but refined aesthetics of Arts and Crafts decorative arts would ennoble the new experience of industrial consumerism, making individuals more rational and society more harmonious. The American Arts and Crafts movement was the aesthetic counterpart of its contemporary political philosophy, progressivism. Like the Arts and Crafts movement in Europe, Mingei sought to preserve traditional crafts in the face of modernising industry.
Walter Crane, "Of The Revival of Design and Handicraft", in Arts and Crafts Essays, by Members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, 1893
Letchworth Garden City, the first garden city, was inspired by Arts and Crafts ideals. The Arts & Crafts Church (Long Street Methodist Church and School) Villa Ruggeri built by Giuseppe Brega – in Pesaro, Italy completed in 1907
Gertrude Jekyll applied Arts and Crafts principles to garden design. Other examples of Arts and Crafts gardens include Hestercombe Gardens, Lytes Cary Manor and the gardens of some of the architectural examples of arts and crafts buildings (listed above).
Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain were critical of the government system of art education based on design in the abstract with little teaching of practical craft. The first school to make this change was the Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts, which "led the way in introducing executed design to the teaching of art and design nationally (working in the material for which the design was intended rather than designing on paper). Shortly after its foundation, the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts was set up on Arts and Crafts lines by the local borough council. William Morris
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